Underground Film Journal

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Dennis Hopper: Warhol Superstar

By Mike Everleth ⋅ May 31, 2010

Hollywood icon Dennis Hopper, who passed away on May 29 at the age of 74, had a brief flirtation with the underground film scene of the 1960s mostly due to his personal relationship with the artist Andy Warhol. Embedded above is a homemade video of a screening of the Screen Test that Hopper filmed for Warhol accompanied by a live performance by Dean and Britta. The screening occurred in 2009 in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.

In the early ’60s, although he had appeared in films like Giant, alongside James Dean, Hopper was primarily a TV actor who also performed in off-Broadway productions in NYC. During this time, the actor very wisely began buying paintings by artists in the then burgeoning Pop Art movement, including work by Pop’s biggest star Andy Warhol.

In addition to painting, Warhol was also beginning to move into filmmaking, first producing very static films such as Sleep, Eat, Kiss and Haircut that consisted pretty much just what the titles of the films say. He also started filming what he called Screen Tests, which was basically he would take people he knew, sit them down in front of a camera, then film them with no prompting or getting the subject to perform in any way.

Hopper was one of these Screen Test subjects and his reel was cut into a compilation of Screen Tests called The Thirteen Most Beautiful Boys — even though Hopper was nearly thirty when his test was filmed. (Several of Warhol’s Screen Tests were recently released on DVD, which is available for sale on Amazon.)

Then, in 1963, Warhol took a trip to Los Angeles for a showing of his paintings of Elizabeth Taylor and Elvis Presley. Hopper then was also on the West Coast and threw Warhol a proper “movie actor” party upon the artists arrival.

While in L.A., Warhol also decided to shoot an impromptu movie, one with more action than he had been typically used to directing. The film was a Tarzan spoof called Tarzan and Jane Regained … Sort of starring Warhol “superstars” Taylor Mead and Naomi Levine in the titular roles. The main joke of the film was having Mead, a fey, pixieish man, star as the traditionally very masculine Tarzan. Hopper appears in the film as Mead’s “stunt double.”

Prior to his two brief collaborations with Warhol, Hopper also starred in the debut feature film by underground filmmaker Curtis Harringon, Night Tide. Hopper is a sailor who falls in love with a woman who may be a murderous mermaid. Night Tide is available for streaming on Amazon.