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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

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In its latest major exhibition, ACMI is staging Dennis Hopper and the New Hollywood , an expansive exhibition showcasing an extraordinary man’s career, his collaborations and personal art collection, providing an amazing insight into a formative era of Hollywood.

In the 1960s, a new generation of Hollywood filmmakers changed the face of American cinema with the content, marketing, consumption and distribution of films. Creative control shifted from producers to directors, many of whom were young, film-school graduates with a passion for film history, art and the New Wave. What film was about, who it was for, and how it could look all came under scrutiny in an era famed for its anti-establishment and counter-cultural values.

This was ’The New Hollywood’, and right at its centre was Dennis Hopper and his extraordinary film, Easy Rider (1968). With its super-low budget and rock n’ roll soundtrack, Hopper’s directorial debut quickly reached cult status. The aesthetic of the road, already mythologised by the New York Beats in the 1950s, took on new connotations in the Californian underground, mingling with aspects of Pop Art, radical politics and the great mythology of the American dream.

ACMI Director, Tony Sweeney, said: “ACMI is excited to present this Australian-exclusive exhibition celebrating the work and life of a truly extraordinary filmmaker and artist. The exhibition allows us to engage in great depth and detail the catalogue of work by a courageous artist, reflecting on a bygone era which radically influenced the film industry that exists today.”

"a painter and prolific photographer"

In this unique exhibition, Dennis Hopper’s remarkable body of work is put into context. As a ‘New Hollywood’ visionary and actor, Hopper has occupied a key place in American cultural production from the 1950s to today. He has collaborated with a vast range of artists, musicians, actors, architects and filmmakers over the past forty years, most notably with Francis Ford Coppola, Marcel Duchamp, Frank Gehry, Jack Nicholson, David Lynch and Wim Wenders.

Hopper is also a painter and prolific photographer, exhibited worldwide. He has taken portraits of artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Julian Schnabel, published covers for magazines including Vogue and Artforum and documented hundreds of artistic performances, graffiti-sites and political uprisings. Hopper is the photographer behind some of the world’s most recognised images of icons like Martin Luther King Jnr, Paul Newman and James Brown.

The exhibition traces the paradoxes of an America undergoing transformation – from pop culture to suburban subculture, psychedelia to slam poetry, rebellion to disillusionment. The exhibition brings together Hopper’s own photography and film work as both director and actor — including films such as Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Blue Velvet (1986), Apocalypse Now (1968) and the Australian production Mad Dog Morgan (1976) — with Hopper’s exceptional private collection of contemporary art. Dennis Hopper’s own work is shown alongside paintings, photographs and sculptures by major American artists such as Andy Warhol, Ed Ruscha, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein and Jenny Holzer.

Dennis Hopper and the New Hollywood was originally produced by the Cinémathèque Française, in association with Dennis Hopper, Easy Rider Productions, and curated by Matthieu Orlean. For its Melbourne presentation, the exhibition will feature a film season and a series of public programs, talks and workshops.

“ACMI has an international reputation for presenting the very best of moving image art from around the globe and we’re excited to be able to provide Australian audiences with another exclusive opportunity to experience the work of legendary filmmaker and artist Dennis Hopper,” Tony said.

ACMI’s Head of Film Programs, Richard Sowada, said this season is a tribute to more than the film. “ACMI is thrilled to be celebrating 40 years of East Rider by screening a restored print of this classic break-through work. In presenting this work, we are not just celebrating this film’s legacy but acknowledging its role as a great turning point in filmmaking history.”

“It’s rare to a film this poignant. To capture the era is one thing, but to capture the state of mind is quite another,” said Richard. “Easy Rider, to me, is like a wild explosion in a laboratory where the alchemist comes out with their hair standing on end and face blackened but holding a lump of gold. It’s a crazy experiment that can never be duplicated.”

Easy Rider premiered at Cannes in 1969 and is today recognised as having had great cultural and historical significance, and remains a favourite among cinephiles for its pioneering vision and similarly among motoring enthusiasts as the original ‘road trip’ film.

Originally titled, ‘The Loners’, Easy Rider is the brainchild of Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda. The film was Hopper’s directorial debut and Fonda produced it. Originally both actors, Hopper and Fonda took on the lead roles. The screenplay was written by Hopper and Fonda with major screenwriting talent Terry Southern (although Southern’s credit was later disputed).

Easy Rider is the adventure of Billy (played by Hopper, named after Billy the Kid) and Wyatt (played by Fonda and inspired by Captain America), two modern-day cowboys; hippie drug dealers rocketing across America on Harley Davidsons. Along the way, they pick up lawyer George Hanson, played Jack Nicholson in the role that secured him as a leading man of films to come. Eccentric, disgraced record mogul Phil Spector has a cameo as a ’connection’.

The making of the film was a tumultuous affair; stories of the production process are now embedded in film folklore. Filming began at Mardi Gras in New Orleans where most of the resources were expended and the shoot was universally regarded as
negative though, and a high degree of improvisation during filming was encouraged which led to some of the key moments in the film and some iconic images being generated.

"a landmark Hollywood film"

Drawn with visions of the American landscape (captured by now legendry Hollywood cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs) and evoking a sense of freedom, Easy Rider is the ultimate road movie, fittingly punctuated with a pulsating rock and roll soundtrack, including Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and Steppenwolf’s Born To Be Wild.

Easy Rider is regarded as a document of the counter-culture movement and a landmark Hollywood film. As historical record it is a near-perfect reflection of the sex, drugs and rock-and-roll spirit of the age. For Hollywood, it signalled a breakthrough for independent film; Easy Rider was independently made, free of the restraints of the film studios which dominated play. Despite being independently funded and reportedly shot for US$340,000, it grossed an astonishing US$19million at the box office making it the highest grossing independent film of all time.

At the time of release the film was celebrated most notably with two Oscar nominations; Best Screenplay and Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Nicholson. More recently, the film was formally recognised as a film of great cultural and historical significance and in 1998 was added to the United States National Film Registry.

Published October 15, 2009

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Dennis Hopper

The Last Movie

Thursday 12 November 2009 – Sunday 25 April 2010
David Stratton in Conversation with Dennis Hopper Unclassified 18+
Fri 13 Nov 2009, 7.30pm

Masterclass with Dennis Hopper Unclassified 15+
Sat 14 Nov 2009, 2pm

Focus On Dennis Hopper

Thurs 3 - 13 December, 2009

Long Play: Easy Rider
Sat 26 Dec - Mon 18 Jan, 2010

All at ACMI cinemas, Federation Sq, Melbourne

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