Movies

Counterculture cinema

Dennis Hopper made his mark at a time when movies took a left turn

By Rick Romancito
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 5/17/19

What was the "counterculture"? In the 1960s, there was a cultural revolution that pitted young people, political movements, minorities and a resulting media explosion against the …

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Movies

Counterculture cinema

Dennis Hopper made his mark at a time when movies took a left turn

Posted

What was the "counterculture"? In the 1960s, there was a cultural revolution that pitted young people, political movements, minorities and a resulting media explosion against the status quo, meaning anything representing the military-industrial complex and conservative values and anyone over the age of 30.

It also meant getting high and expanding your mind, not drunk and stupid. Although it represented independence and nonconformity, it was symbolized by tie-dyed clothing, beads, bell-bottom jeans and conspicuous displays of psychedelic designs to show the world you were "turned on."

The counterculture had its own in-jokes about the world and whenever the media tried to get in and make a buck from it, the movies and TV shows that tried to capitalize on hippies were ridiculed. But, something happened when "Easy Rider" came along. Finally, somebody seemed to get it right. Here was a movie that was truly independent, that used the music of the era -- Hendrix, Steppenwolf, The Byrds -- not as a veneer but as integral to the scene. It was the soundtrack of the times.

This year, "Easy Rider" turns 50. Yep, you saw that right. The young don't get younger, they just get old and cranky, which is kind of what happened to that generation of rebels and miscreants. But, they also were part of the wave that really did change the world in many ways.

This week, the Taos Center for the Arts has put together a series of films that celebrate those times, alongside those of Dennis Hopper himself, who lived in Taos for a while, raised some hell, went away, came back and decided this was the place he wanted to be buried when he passed away in 2010.

All of the following films will be screened at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. Unless otherwise noted, admission is $8.50, $7 for Taos Center for the Arts members, and $5 for youth 17 years and under.

The first is titled "Hippie Family Values," which will be screened Thursday (May 16) at 7 p.m.

This 2019 film from director Beverly Seckinger is an unrated documentary described as an "intimate chronicle of a remote communal ranch in New Mexico.This film was shot over a 10-year period." The director will be present for the screening. Ticket price is $10.

The Friday (May 17), at 7 p.m., a free screening of "Easy Rider" will be given as part of the part of the Rebel Film Festival and Dennis Hopper Day celebration in Taos. This day, Hopper would have been 83. Directed by Hopper and starring Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson, this R-rated drama is the real deal. There will be cake served as part of the birthday celebration.

On Saturday (May 18), 7 p.m., "Johnny Guitar" will be shown from an original 1954 35mm print -- complete with scratches, blemishes, worn edges and all. This marks Hopper's screen debut. "On the outskirts of town, the hard-nosed Vienna (Joan Crawford) owns a saloon frequented by the undesirables of the region, including Dancin' Kid (Scott Brady) and his gang," a synopsis reads. "Another patron of Vienna's establishment is Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden), a former gunslinger, and her lover. When a heist is pulled in town that results in a man's death, Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge), Vienna's rival, rallies the townsfolk to take revenge on Vienna's saloon -- even without proof of her wrongdoing." Hopper has a small role in the film.

Then, on Sunday (May 19) at 2 p.m., the TCA will show Hopper's "The Last Movie." This one-hour-and-48-minute drama is rated R and stars Hopper, Julie Adams, Daniel Ades and Richmond L. Aguilar. It will be screened from a 4K restoration of Hopper's 1971 directorial follow-up to the success of "Easy Rider." The film, edited at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, is said to have destroyed Hopper's career. According to a synopsis, "Kansas (Hopper) is a stunt coordinator in charge of horses on a western being shot in a small Peruvian village. Following a tragic incident on the set where an actor is killed in a stunt, he decides to quit the movie business and stay in Peru with a local woman. He thinks he has found paradise, but is soon called in to help in a bizarre incident: the Peruvian natives are 'filming' their own movie with 'cameras' made of sticks, and acting out real western movie violence, as they don't understand movie fakery. The film touches on the ideas of fiction versus reality, especially in regard to cinema. The movie is presented in a way that challenges the viewer's traditional cinematic understanding of storytelling, by presenting the story in a nonchronological fashion, and by including several devices typically only seen behind the scenes of filmmaking (rough edits and 'scene missing' cards), and the use of jarring jump cuts."

Not an easy movie to watch, but certainly an iconoclastic masterpiece.

Then, from Monday through Wednesday (May 20-22), 7 p.m., the TCA will show "Breaking Habits," a 2018 documentary by Robert Ryan about "a group of activists led by Sister Kate, a self-proclaimed weed-growing Nun, [who seeks] to legitimize their marijuana farm in Merced County, California."

The box office opens 45 minutes prior to each screening. For more information, call (575) 758-2052 or visit tcataos.org.

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