New York FF 2020: Hopper/Welles


Orson Welles and Dennis Hopper have a wide-ranging conversation on the set of The Other Side of the Wind in Hopper/Welles.

Years after his passing, Orson Welles still manages to surprise us.  A few years ago, we were treated to what very well could be his final released film.  This year, cinephiles are treated to the premiere of a documented conversation between the Citizen Kane filmmaker and the Easy Rider filmmaker in 1970.  It’s certainly a treat.

While The Other Side of the Wind wouldn’t come out until 2018, Welles was speaking with rising film journalists during this time.  Dennis Hopper makes an appearance in the film in an improvised scene.  Anyway, the two have a filmed conversation during dinner.  One for the history books!  Hopper, of course, was a year removed from his hit film, Easy Rider.  Welles just came back from exile in Europe and hoping to regain his fame thirty years after Citizen Kane.  Coming from completely different eras, the two discuss a wide variety of subjects including sex, power, revolution, etc.

Filip Jan Rymsza assembles the footage for Hopper/Welles, which is now excavated in front our eyes.  It’s like we’re also sitting there with them.  Outside of footage being assembled for present audiences, what we’re seeing is what was filmed 50 years ago.  The camera set-up means Hopper is on camera for the entire running time.  Welles, on the other hand, is not.  In a way, Welles is like a therapist sitting off to the side trying to get a response from his subject.  At the time of the meeting, Hopper was in post-production for The Last Movie.  That particular project was nothing if not a disaster. Throw in the post-Manson environment and you can kind of get into Hopper’s head.

While the conversation was filmed some fifty years ago in Beverly Hills, there are certainly some things that won’t fly in 2020.  For instance, Hopper tells Welles almost 80 minutes in: “I think I’m a lesbian, really…I’m not queer but I’m a lesbian.”  The comments come while Hopper is talking about sex and Welles is the first to bring up the word, “queer.”  This is along the same line that Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam also used a few years ago when he jokingly identified as a Black trans lesbian.  I’m sorry but this just isn’t funny.  Honestly, I wish that this part of the conversation was edited out of the film.  Oh, well.

Dennis Hopper opens up to Welles about his political opinions.  Mind you this was 1970 but Hopper also tells Welles that he would probably go to jail if he opened up about his political opinions.  This leads into a conversation about the Joseph McCarthy era–one of the darkest eras in American political history.  Speaking of politics, Hopper isn’t short for words when it comes to Jane Fonda.  This kind of goes in hand with what Hopper has to say about placing a message within films.

Hopper doesn’t think anyone has made a movie that affected change at this point in time.  Even in his own films, he wouldn’t confront it directly.  Around 100 minutes in: “I may not be the person that does it but I think that there will come a time that there will be films that will move people,”

Hopper would certainly love the cable news era–he reads the newspaper but he prefers to watch the news.  He tells Welles some 114 minutes in: “I love politics.  I love the news.  (Laughs) I can sit and watch the news all day long.  If they had news on television all day long, I would love it. I could really sit there all day long and watch the news.”

When you think of the great New Hollywood filmmakers, Dennis Hopper isn’t really one of the first that comes to mind.  One tends to think of Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, William Friedkin, Hal Ashby, or even Peter Bogdanovich.  Dennis Hopper?  Not so much.

Hopper/Welles is film history happening in front of our very eyes.

DIRECTOR:  Orson Welles
FEATURING:  Dennis Hopper, Orson Welles, with Janice Pennington and Glenn Jacobson

Hopper/Welles held its North American premiere during the 2020 New York Film Festival in the Spotlight program. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.