Sunday, 6 April 2014

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1986: Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet

Dennis Hopper did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying Frank Booth in Blue Velvet.

Blue Velvet is a brilliant film about a young man Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) who tries to find out the mystery behind a severed human ear and in doing so uncovers the dark underbelly of his seemingly idyllic hometown. 

Dennis Hopper actually was Oscar nominated for 1986 in this category, but not for his turn in this film. Instead he was recognized for his good but certainly in comparison simpler portrayal as a sympathetic drunkard in Hoosiers. There probably was not much of a competition between the performances in terms of votes either since in Hoosiers Hopper played a likable man and in Blue Velvet he plays a villain. Yes the academy likes villains well enough but not really so much when they are like Frank.Well there really aren't many villains like Frank Booth to be sure when one of his most savory qualities is the fact that he runs a small criminal organization in what seems to be a pleasant town otherwise. In fact Hopper's portrayal of Frank's very first scene probably guaranteed that he would be recognized for Hoosiers and not this film.

Frank makes his most unusual entrance once Jeffrey tries to become a sleuth by investigating a night club singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) who is said to have some sort involvement with the missing ear. He is caught by her in her apartment and she beings to play a sexual game with that is quickly silenced when Frank comes over to have his own sexual game with Dorothy with the hidden Jeffrey forced to watch. Hopper is truly something to watch in this scene as he let's the whole prevision fly in his all too convincing portrayal of Frank particularly method to game sexual satisfaction. The way Hopper plays the whole scene is absolutely amazing yet an especially disturbing sight to be seen. It is a jumble of emotions in Frank's method and he seems all over the place mentally yet Hopper successfully brings it into one man's madness.

It would have been easy enough to just be the vicious rapist he is, and Hopper certainly does not hold back in that regard. Every time he tells Dorothy to not look at him, or to shut up Hopper is so brutally cruel in his delivery and such an unpleasant degree. That is not all there is to even Frank anger though. During the "sex" scene there is such a bizarre intensity that Hopper brings to Frank lust that is honestly completely frightening to see. The reason being that within the anger there is that sexual desire and satisfaction that he depicts in the same moment in a truly twisted dance of emotions. That would be enough it seems to leave an impression but Hopper does not stop there. Underlying all of it Hopper expresses moments of almost an emotional breakdown in Frank as the sexual experience also seems to cause him to reflect on some very odd psychological issues stemming from his past.

Well that is only Hopper's first scene and he already pretty much insured you would never really forget his performance. Anyway Hopper appears once again after Jeffrey makes a very ill timed exit from Dorothy's apartment as it just happens to be the same time Frank and some of his henchmen arrive. Again what is so incredible about Hopper's performance is just how much he does in every scene with Frank Booth, to be sure there is not one even slightly dull moment when he is onscreen. In the basic villain mold of things Hopper certainly fits that part particularly well. His menace is a truly palatable one here as he makes Frank presence resonate throughout the film so there is some dread in the mere implication of his appearance. Hopper's portrayal isn't even that of a cunning villain necessarily, but the ferocity he brings in Frank's violent demeanor makes him a man to be feared.

Again merely being the villain just does not seem enough in Hopper's performance as there is even a very darkly comic element that Hopper brings with his portrayal Frank. In his scenes with Jeffrey Frank addresses him as neighbor and Hopper is rather hilariously friendly in the way he says it even while he is constantly physically abusive toward him. Any of these moments could come off poorly or odd considering the rest of what Frank does but Hopper handles them so naturally that his deliveries seem exactly how Frank would say them. My favorite of these pitch black comedic moments has to be right when Frank is intent on murdering Jeffrey and just before believing he's going to do it says "You've got about one second to live buddy!". Hopper delivers so amusingly like Jeffrey is his buddy, yet the killing intent in Frank still is never lost even for a second. 

Of course Frank is not just a thug  even though is unquestionably a thug. This is best shown when Frank forces Jeffrey and Dorothy along with his gang to the home of a very strange man called Ben (Dean Stockwell) who lip syncs Roy Orbinson's "In Dreams" to Frank. Hopper is fascinating in this scene as he shows such a vulnerability in Frank as the song brings him almost to tears. What is so compelling about his performance is that he makes this moment of reflection a completely believable transition for Frank. Even more than that Hopper is absurdly magnetic and even oddly poignant as he portrays the profound affect on Frank and alludes to the psyche of the man. Hopper expresses what the song means to Frank, and suggests that the emotions it brings are overwhelming to the point that he must fight them with anger. It is a flawlessly acted scene by Hopper. 

Frank is a role that could have easily been filled with pitfalls not only the whole idea of the character but as well just merely behavior perhaps could have seemed overly repetitive. This is never the case for Hopper as you never know what Frank is going to do in a given scene except that it is going to be very disturbing yet so strangely entrancing to witness. This is especially true in the scene where he first threatens then proceeds to beat Jeffrey for interfering with his abuse of Dorothy. Hopper certainly makes you believe the threat as he is brutally imposing but again the twist in his Frank is how well he suggests just how damaged of a man the psychotic Frank is. Frank again almost cries as he's beating Jeffrey and Hopper only ever brings these emotions into Frank as Frank. Hopper makes all these seeming inconsistencies all what is this one deranged man and that is something astonishing to behold. 

I really cannot praise this Hopper enough in this film. It is such a tremendous work by him as he turns Frank into one of the most unforgettable villains of course. I don't see him just as a villain though as Hopper goes so much further than that with his work, he creates this remarkable character that he does make so unrepentant in his repulsiveness yet you can't look away. Frank isn't even necessarily necessarily that much of Blue Velvet's running time yet it is impossible to think of the film without thinking of his performance. Hopper is captivating in every single frame of his performance as he never wastes a second in realizing every facet of Frank Booth. This is easily the greatest performance by Dennis Hopper that I have seen, and I hold no hesitations to call it one of the greatest supporting performances of all time.


Kevin said...

Louis, what would be your top 10 greatest ever leading and supporting actor performances?

(Including the actual nominees and the alternates)

Michael McCarthy said...

This is easily my favorite film of 1986, and Hopper's the best part. He's clearly got this category in the bag.

Anonymous said...

What I found so impressive about Hopper's performance is that he's actually not in it that much, yet makes such a viscreal impact on the viewer.

By the way, ratings and thoughts for:

George Dickerson, Laura Dern and Brad "Hey Raymond! Where's the f@cking beer?" Dourif in Blue Velvet

Stephen Tobolowsky in Memento

Gary Oldman in The Contender

Jean Reno in Leon

The team in Munich


Michael Patison said...

What are your rating and thoughts on Bette Davis in Now, Voyager

luke higham said...

Louis: your ratings & thoughts on Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, X-Men First Class and The Hunger Games (2012).

luke higham said...

Louis: lastly, ratings for the casts of the original 3 spider man films.

Anonymous said...

This is random, but I'm really glad you gave Patricia Neal in Hud a 5! Yay! Love that performance, so brief, yet realistic and haunting at the sometime. Do you consider her lead?

mrripley said...

Why nominate him for Hoosiers or do you think it was really for this performance.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

"MOMMY! BABY WANTS TO FUCK!" God I love this movie.

Michael McCarthy said...

RIP Mickey Rooney

GetDonaldSutherlandanOscar said...

Can't believe he's gone. Not everyone's cup of tea, I'll be the first to admit, but what no one can deny is the effort, vigour and energy he put into every role. RIP Mickey Rooney.

Louis Morgan said...



Maguire - 2.5
Dafoe - 3
Dunst - 1.5
Franco - 1
Robertson - 3
Harris - 2.5
Simmons - 3.5


Maguire - 2.5
Dunst - 1.5
Franco - 2
Molina - 3
Harris - 2.5
Simmons - 3.5
Dafoe - 3


Maguire - 1
Dunst - 1.5
Franco - 2
Church - 3
Grace - 2.5
Howard - 1.5
Harris - 2.5
Simmons - 3


I would put Neal in supporting.

mrripley: I'm sure this probably helped him secure that nomination, but I think if Hoosiers had not existed he would not have been nominated in 86 though. After all Rossellini wasn't nominated either, and she did not have to compete with herself.

Michael McCarthy: Sorry to see him finally go.

R.I.P indeed.

Louis Morgan said...

Kevin: Tentative lists based on only performances or years that I have covered.

Top Ten Lead Performances:

1. F. Murray Abraham in Amadeus
2. Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia
3. Gene Hackman in The Conversation
4. James Stewart in It’s A Wonderful Life
5. Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers
6. Richard Farnsworth in The Straight Story
7. Toshiro Mifune in Rashomon
8. Richard Attenborough in 10 Rillington Place
9. Laurence Olivier in the Entertainer
10. Alec Guinness in The Bridge on the River Kwai

Top Ten Supporting:

1. Robert Shaw in Jaws
3. Martin Landau in Ed Wood
4. Richard Jordan in Gettysburg
5. Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter
6. John Cazale in The Godfather Part II
7. Gene Hackman in Unforgiven
8. Edward G. Robinson in Double Indemnity
9. Sessue Hayakawa in The Bridge on the River Kwai
10. Tsutomu Yamazaki in High and Low


Dickerson - 3.5(Relatively limited but offers just the right sort of warmth to the part to be one of the few comforting factors in the film)

Dern - 4(Does the naive schoolgirl well by making that aspect known but not overplaying that element. She also is effective, in a similar was like MacLachlan, in showing how the events of the story change her character)

Dourif - 2.5(I like Dourif here but he's really just some nice window dressing)

Tobolowsky - 4(One of the strongest aspects of Memento is how well it does realize what is technically not important to the main plot in such heartbreaking detail which is only emphasized further by Tobolowsky's and Harriet Sansom Harris's performances. They both authentically create both their characters in such exquisite detail in such a short amount of time)

Oldman - 3(I'm a fan of Oldman but this just feels like a lesser performance for him. It's not really his fault but his character is such a straw man that it is hard to make him authentic. He's definitely not bad though, and he tries his best but just isn't able to overcome the material. He was better than Bridges though)

Reno - 4(A tricky part considering the questionable nature of the central relationship, but Reno excels by making his character such a gentle soul. The childlike nature he gives the part just is so nicely endearing and somehow he manages to keep the killer edge of the character as well)


Hinds - 3.5(Very solid work as the seasoned and weary mentor. He offers just the right heart to the part to believably offset the very dark nature of what they are doing)

Kassovitz - 3.5(He's very endearing in his part, and makes the whole toymaker turned bomb maker actually work. When he exits you do feel the loss you should)

Craig - 3(Has more than enough lines yet his character is the most limited as he does not seem to have a particular passion. Craig though does a fine enough job as the man who's just basically sees himself doing a job)

Zilcher - 3(Seems as though there was a character building scene missing for him. He is very good in the action scenes though showing his character to be the most fiercely driven by simple revenge)

Michael Patison: Davis - 4.5(She's better when she underplays and that is the case here. She is nicely understated and gives a astute leading turn)


Silver Linings Playbook - 4(She is miscast and there are moments where this comes out when there are mentions of her character's past. Still she gives an entertaining and most of all enthusiastic turn that almost overcomes the problems of her casting)

X-Men First Class - 3(Not exactly her greatest role, but she does do a solid enough job here)

The Hunger Games - 4(Unlike Silver Linings she was perfectly cast here as she brings such a natural strength and charisma that is just right for the role)