Fragmented Frequencies June 16

the hot spot_001As a director Dennis Hopper had his flashes of genius, madness and self-indulgent foolishness. People always gush about Easy Rider or its follow up the near mystical cocaine damaged The Last Movie. And whilst I’ll tip my hat to 1988’s Colors, my favourite is the failed 1990 desert noir The Hot Spot. There’s a lot to like, Don Johnson as the smooth drifter looking for a second chance, who falls into bed with his car dealer boss’ wife Virginia Madsen, whilst simultaneously falling for Jennifer Connolly, the innocent ingénue. With bank heists, femme fatales and an amoral every-man searching for his soul, caught between his brain and his balls, it’s noir for the 90’s. And whilst the sun soaked ‘Last Tango in Texas’ failed to ignite the box office, Hopper did one thing right. He hired Jack Nitzchse to score. Nitzchse had worked with Neil Young, James Brown, The Rolling Stones, and everyone in between. His films included One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Performance and Cruising. Yet for the Hot Spot Nitzchse did something special. He hired Miles Davis, John Lee Hooker, Taj Mahl, slide guitarist Roy Rogers and put them all in a room together. The results really defy categorization, lazy stripped back instrumental blues, with Hooker moaning periodically, Mahl strumming absently on his dobro and Rogers offering shimmering desert slide as Davis steps over the top and drops plaintive trumpet lines that sound like harmonica shimmering in the distance. It’s the soul of the movie, and it’s remarkable.

Fragmented Films 15th of March 09



Within the first five minutes of Mad Dog Morgan (Umbrella), Dennis Hopper, with a deep Irish brogue cold cocks an aggressive trooper, smokes opium in the Chinese settlement, then watches as his friend’s head explodes in a racially motivated attack. Failing as a gold prospector he turns to highway robbery and terrorises wealthy landowners. When asked in the extras how he approached the role, Hopper laughs, “well, a lot of rum.” He’s playing the Australian bushranger amongst a veritable who’s who of Australian 70’s alumni like Jack Thompson, Frank Thring, Bill Hunter and David Gulpilil, who teams up with Hopper on his crime spree. The director, Phillippe Mora recalls Gulpilil going walkabout during the shooting. When asked why he said “I had to ask the kookaburras and trees about Dennis.”  “Well what did they say?” Asked Mora. “They all said that Dennis is crazy.” In fact Hopper was so consumed by the role that when shooting finished he visited Morgan’s grave, drank  a fifth of Rum and started tearing up the cemetery. Driving away he was promptly arrested by police, blood tested him, pronounced legally dead, and hauled in front of a judge who told him that not only was he forbidden to drive in Victoria, he wasn’t even permitted to be a passenger. They then put him on a plane and sent him back the the U.S. It’s a great film. Hopper plays Morgan as a tormented rock star, or perhaps as himself, a spoiled drug crazed alcoholic actor on a downward spiral towards unemployment. The extras include Mora’s audio commentary, a radio interview, and 30 mins of Mora interviewing Hopper, discussing everything from the French New Wave to Easy Rider.


The 1957 Oscar for best screenplay was awarded to Robert Rich for The Brave One. However he never bothered to pick it up. It’s because he didn’t write it. He was a patsy, one of many. It was written by Dalton Trumbo under a pseudonym as in 1947 he was hauled before Senator Joseph McCarthy’s House Un American Activities Committee and refused to answer their questions or name names. He was subsequently jailed and blacklisted by Hollywood. Trumbo (Madman) documents this experience and explores how his stand affected his life, career and family, via archival interviews, telling excerpts from his films such as Pappilon and Spartacus, current day interviews with his family and friends, and most importantly his personal letters. These amazing letters are read by the likes of Liam Neeson, Donald Sutherland, Joan Allen, and David Strathairn. Witty, verbose and brutally honest, they reveal a resolute man struggling against a society hellbent on punishing him. It’s telling that Michael Douglas reads the letter where Trumbo discusses the blood on Robert Rich’s Oscar. His father Kirk’s interview is perhaps the most affecting here. Approaching 90, speech impaired, he talks of looking back on his life and reflecting on what he is most proud of: giving Trumbo a screen credit for Spartacus in 1970 and thus effectively ending the blacklist.


Like Animal Farm, The Crucible, or even the Bible (unless you’re from Hillsong), Lord of The Flies (Directors Suite) is an allegorical tale. This means that it shouldn’t necessarily be taken literally, that it’s a less explicit way to explore important themes or ideas that may be a little too sensitive to touch on head on. Yet on any level Peter Brook’s film is a cracker. Made for $150,000 in 1963, shot in black and white with non professional actors and crew on an island near Puerto Rico, Brooks captures a curious mix of documentary realism and stylised artifice. It feels like a uniquely psychological form of filmmaking, utilsing improvisation, an amazing amount of edits and a very articulate feel for both score and sound design. It’s a film, like William Golding’s famous book that demonstrates mankind’s perilous proximity to violence and anarchy once the artifice of law is dropped. 


The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Beyond) is one of the first horror movies ever, a German silent from 1920, it’s one of the most famous examples of the German Expressionism, with highly stylised dark and menacing sets with stark geometric shadows. It focusses on a series of murders and is clouded in mystery and the fantastic. In fact it’s so genuinely spooky that it’s surprising it hasn’t been remade with Naomi Watts.