A Portrait of Two Directors as Men
Hopper/Welles contains few grand insights about life; a few more about filmmaking. But listening to the two men talk uninhibited - and virtually uninterrupted - for two hours, you cannot help but learn about them, what their insecurities are, their habits, their fears, their very nature. Hopper/Welles is a balm for the quarantined soul - a reminder of the power and pleasure of simple, adult conversation, with no purpose or agenda, merely a desire to know and be known. It is not nearly as revolutionary as these men and their films; but it is perhaps just as personal.
Recently unearthed and digitally restored, Hopper/Welles was originally filmed in 1970 as improvised conversation meant for a dinner party sequence in Welles’s 2018 The Other Side of the Wind. Welles slips in and out of the persona of director Jake Hannaford, played in Other Side by John Huston, and based in part on Welles’s longtime friend Ernest Hemingway. The full film is absurdly complicated; the conversation its counterpart in simplicity.
Whether Welles or Hannaford or some other persona, the elder statesmen serves the same function: to question, to interrogate, to play the cynic to Dennis Hopper’s youthful exuberance. Though the men seem to have equal respect for one another, their conversation nonetheless plays less as a sure-footed back-and-forth than as a student-teacher discussion during office hours, an informal but power-infused discourse on philosophy through the Socratic method. “I’m going to push you,” Welles asks/tells Hopper at one point. “It’s the first area where I’ve found you weak.”
And the filmmaking style mirrors this reality: the camera never actually shows Welles, but instead hovers and circles around Hopper for more than two hours. Both the scene and Welles himself are trying to cut through Hopper’s words to get at something resembling his core - though in the process, the jaded former wunderkind may reveal more about himself than his potential protege. If his empty cynicism results in double barreled witticisms during the first hour, it begins to wear on both one’s soul and one’s patience by the two-hour mark.
For their respective legendary statuses, Hopper/Welles is most effective in leaving us with the very human imprint of their presences. The world-weary man who cannot abide another’s idealism, having lost his own. The high-spirited director of people who kicks up a joke or two every time things start to get a bit too serious. And the space between them: a slash in the title, a few feet in conversation, but seemingly miles in space and time. Make time for Hopper/Welles. You might just learn something about yourself.