This obviously wouldn’t be an appropriate time to revive my negative review of Hopper’s Colors in the Chicago Reader 22 years ago, which can easily be accessed by anyone who might be interested. But I’d like to reproduce a couple of short paragraphs from it about my favorite Hopper film, which I continue to cherish:
To make sure my memory wasn’t playing tricks on me, I recently took another look at Hopper’s previous film, Out of the Blue (1980). Here was proof, if any is needed, that a celebrated burnt-out case came back to establish himself as the legitimate American heir to the cinema of Nicholas Ray — a cinema of tortured lyricism and passionate rebellion that reached its fullest flower in the 50s, as if to match the action painting that was roughly contemporary with it. Hopper managed to remake Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (the film in which Hopper made his acting debut) in terms of a working-class punk (Linda Manz), an androgynous heroine whose grim fate suggested an Americanized version of Robert Bresson’s Mouchette. Casting himself, moreover, as her dissolute father, Hopper gave himself a disturbing part that seemed to update his role as Billy in Easy Rider.
Originally hired to work on Out of the Blue solely as an actor, Hopper took over as director at the last minute. He fashioned an extraordinary movie with a minimum of time (a month of shooting, six weeks of editing) and money ($1.2 million, $780,000 of it reportedly Hopper’s own) that easily surpassed both Easy Rider (1969), and The Last Movie (1971) — his respectively overrated and underrated first two movies — as historical testimony and as aesthetic object. But very few people have ever heard of this late-blooming masterpiece, much less seen it. The fact that it belongs to that elephant graveyard of titles available on video doesn’t mean that it’s been validated by even the minimal cultural attention routinely given to every Sylvester Stallone release. [5/30/10]
One of the joys of living in Chicago is the special quality of its scruffy storefront theater, although I must confess that during my 20 years here as a film reviewer, I took advantage of this resource only rarely, apart from a few intermittent discoveries over the years (such as the 21-year-old Theatre Oobleck, which I was lucky enough to stumble upon and savor in some of its earliest productions). More recently, since my retirement from the Chicago Reader, I’ve happily come across no less than four separate theaters of this kind in my own neighborhood so far, and over the past two Friday evenings I’ve had the pleasure of attending very impressive productions of Brecht’s The Good Soul of Szechuan at the Strawdog (on 3829 North Broadway) and, tonight, Strindberg’s The Ghost Sonata at the Oracle just a few doors down from there (on 3809 North Broadway).
The Strawdog’s funky and entertaining version of Brecht (see above) has had the benefit of a thoughtful and passionate rave from the Reader’s Albert Williams, so the performance I attended was nearly sold out. But the Oracle’s Strindberg, despite a mainly favorable capsule in the same paper from Kerry Reid, shockingly had only seven customers at the performance I attended tonight, making us a slightly smaller crowd than the production’s able cast of eight. (The Oracle is also a more modest place, I hasten to add — with a normal seating capacity of only 24, if I counted correctly.) Part of this difference can undoubtedly be attributed to the more unfashionable aspects of Strindberg, combined with the fact that The Ghost Sonata is now a ripe 103 years old, an obstacle hinted at in some of the reviews of this production that I’ve read, despite the fact that these are mainly favorable. And I must confess that certain aspects of this play eluded me as well. Yet the nearly constant magic-show inventiveness of Max Truax’s expressionist direction, working hand in glove with the sets (credited jointly to Truax and Brieanne Hauger), Michal Janicki’s unnervingly mysterious video, and the volatile performances — all contriving to suggest various kinds of mental projections, contortions, and displacements, and spatial foreshortenings or extensions, as seen and experienced through a troubled mind’s eye — kept me enthralled even when I found myself getting lost in the maze of the plot. This production. in short, has a nightmarish intensity and a creepy authenticity that shouldn’t be missed [5/14/10].