Imagine getting to sit in on a long conversation between two legends of cinema. In this case, it’s Dennis Hopper and Orson Welles. Sounds amazing, right? Now, imagine they’re holding court on all manner of topics. The art form they’re a part of, sure, but also politics, sex, and life in general. It should be an incredible experience. Except, at a certain point, they seem to be going in circles, repeating points and enjoying each other more than you’re enjoying listening to them. Would a sense of disappointment set in? If so, then you’re in the same boat as I am, after having seen Hopper/Welles at the 58th New York Film Festival. I’m thrilled that this movie exists, but I’d be lying if I said that I enjoyed watching it. Or, more accurately, I could only admit to enjoying a brief part of it, before its long-winded nature takes over and ruins things. This is ultimately a cool Special Feature posing as a stand-alone feature.
Hopper/Welles is a film designed to illuminate both Hopper and Welles, though the former is far more the focus. For at least a little bit, there’s an intrigue to seeing a young Hopper talking to an older Welles, while they’re almost ships passing in the cinematic night. Then, you realize that it’s a glorified home movie, a relic to a conversation that holds more appeal to these late artists than to most viewers. It’s a disappointment when that realization sets in, but once it does, it’s one that is impossible to shake.
To be fair, it’s terrific that a flick like this exists. Getting to watch Hopper and Welles have this sort of frank back and forth is a treat, at least in theory. Seen in full for the first time, it definitely works as a curiosity, fit for a venue such as NYFF. As entertainment on any notable level? Not so much. Unless you’re a true film historian of the first order, it’s hard to imagine not being done with this one less than halfway through the over two hour running time.
In short, this is a very long conversation from November of 1970. Dennis Hopper, abuzz in Hollywood due to the success of Easy Rider, is prepping a new project, but makes time to have a meal with Orson Welles, in the midst of trying to get The Other Side of the Wind off the ground. Shot by Welles on two cameras, in black and white, and completely unscripted, is a conversation between two very different artists. Illuminated only by a fireplace and some hurricane lamps, they talk about literally anything and everything for about 130 minutes.
Hopper/Welles should probably be shown, at least in part, to film students, if only to try and understand these two talents. Little bits connect and put you in their headspace. However, as much as certain topics lead to amusement or a cute response, mainly by Hopper, it’s just not enough. Being at a party and listening to a conversation is fun for a while, but when you can’t be a part of it, at some point you tend to walk away. Here, you can’t do that, much to the film’s detriment.
Listening to Dennis Hopper is mostly fascinating, though minutia does set in. He’s clearly still looking at the industry, and life in general, with eyes open. As a window into his mind back in 1970, there’s something here. Orson Welles, however, just comes off as a talk show host. Setting up two cameras and chatting with Hopper was a great experience for him, I’m sure, but he never translates it to us. Of course, Welles probably never intended someone in the 2020 to be watching this talk happen in the first place, so there’s that as well.
Hopper/Welles is a pretty strong special feature on an awful 4K or Blu-ray. As a standalone feature, however, it comes up a bit short. Working as a curiosity at the 2020 New York Film Festival is not a bad venue for this project, but it’s impossible to recommend to the masses. There just isn’t enough “there” there for that.