Thursday, August 25, 2016

LIZ SMITH: The Last Picture Show

Dennis Hopper's director's chair.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Dennis Hopper's Last Picture Show — At Last!! Also, Patrick Wilson and Liam Neeson ... and "Queen of the South" goddess, Veronica Falcon.

“EVERY TIME I’m at Sundance, I realize what a great film festival it is, everything about it.  But then I get this odd idea; what would the worst film festival in the world be like — with small films and big egos and financial concerns?”

“The worst festival? I’ve probably been there, but just can’t remember!  Listen, that’s a funny idea kid.  Write it, and I’ll do it.”

“Really?  I’m going to hold you to that.”
Linda and Dennis on set.
This was part of the conversation between writer/director/producer Linda Yellen and iconic movie actor Dennis Hopper seven years ago, at Sundance.  Both were as good as their word.  Linda quickly came up with “The Last Film Festival,” a script about, well — the worst festival on earth.  Or at least in North America.  And Dennis (along with Jackie Bissett, JoBeth Williams, Kris Kattan, Leelee Sobieski, Joseph Cross and Agim Kaba) agreed to star.
Dennis and Jackie Bissett in “The Last Film Festival."
Unfortunately, Dennis died in 2010, leaving a number of his vital scenes undone.  Since then, Linda, known for TV’s esteemed “Playing for Time” and indie features such as “End of Summer,” “Chantilly Lace,” “The Simian Line,” Parallel Lives,” has worked tirelessly to complete the film, raising money and working out how to seamlessly present her movie even without Dennis’ missing scenes.

It has been a labor of love, a passion project.  At no point did Linda ever resign herself to, “Oh, this just isn’t going to happen!”  What she’d often say was “This is Dennis Hopper’s final screen work. I know it means something to the industry and it sure as hell means something to me!”
The cast of "The Last Film Festival."
Now, with a distributor, Monterey Media, and a September 30th release date pinned down, Linda recently did something she’d attempted in the past. She visited Hopper’s  extended family in Taos, New Mexico, and paid respects at the actor’s grave. Personal/professional circumstances and her own emotions had kept Linda away.

Linda and Robby Romero at "Old Martina's Hall."
She told me recently: “Maybe I couldn’t go, because I felt guilty somehow, that the movie hadn’t been completed. I didn’t want to stand there and say, ‘Sorry, kid, that great idea just didn’t work out.’ I went, and I could say, ‘It’s done. Thank you. I love you.’”

Yellen spent time with Dennis’ Native-American godson, handsome musician (Red Thunder Band) Ronny Romero, and others in Hopper’s eclectic world of extended family and friends in Taos.

Linda laughed and said, “I won’t deny that it became kind of a pilgrimage.  I ate at his favorite restaurants, I saw the Dennis Hopper Highway. I learned that every year on his birthday, hundreds of bikers make the trek from Santa Fe to Taos, just like in ‘Easy Rider.’”

“I went to the Mable Lodge Luhan House, that saw so much partying, and then the gorgeous El Cortez Theater which he transformed into his home.  But you could still tell it had been a theater, which was wonderful and infinitely fitting for a man who was so much a part of cinema iconography.”

As to Hopper’s gravesite, Linda says: “It was moving, and not initially what I was expecting, but then I realized it was so perfectly Dennis. I took pictures, but those I’d rather not share.”
Sunny Spruce.
I am so happy for Linda, who looks rather fragile, delicate, and certainly is sensitive, but has stamina to spare.  Against the odds, she brought “The Last Film Festival” to fruition. She is a remarkable woman and filmmaker.  She has also led a fascinating life, which I have been encouraging her to write up. Two of the many famous types she knew well were Elizabeth Taylor and Arthur Miller. 

Not long ago, Linda responded to an item here about Elizabeth: “This reminds me of when I traveled with her, that fabulous life.  She was so nice!” 

Her memories of Mr. Miller, I leave to Linda’s memoir.
The Official Dennis Hopper Day 2016 Easy Rider patch at the 3rd annual "Easy Rider Ride" held this past May at Old Martina's Hall, Ranchos de Taos Plaza. For more, visit
PATRICK Wilson has been on my mind since I saw him onstage at Barclays in Brooklyn last week with Barbra Streisand.  They sang “Loving You.” (This, from Barbra’s new album of duets, “Encore.”)

Some people in the audience expressed surprise at Patrick’s big beautiful voice, not aware that he is a Broadway vet, twice nominated for the Tony. (“The Full Monty” and "Oklahoma.")
Barbra's duet with Patrick Wilson.
I’ve been keenly aware of Patrick since HBO’s splendid Mike Nichols'-directed adaptation of Tony Kusher’s wrenching AIDS drama, “Angels In America.”

Perhaps that’s because his character, the repressed, Republican Mormon, is basically shunned and forgotten by the end of the play and film — even by his own mother — Meryl Streep in the TV version — who rejects his homosexuality when he comes out to her. (She is, in time, friendly and accepting of the play’s other gay men — not all of whom were terribly sympathetic. But her son, who has suffered his own agonies, is nowhere to be seen.) 
Patrick in “Angels In America.”
This has haunted me, and I had always hoped to be able to ask playwright Kushner why — because he was a Republican?  Because in the play he didn’t see Roy Cohn for what he was until it was too late? 

In any case, Wilson has worked and worked since then, but I’ve  felt he should be a much bigger star.  He often plays cheating husbands and recently has had big successes in horror films such as “The Conjuring” and “Insidious.”  But he’s prime leading man material, and still a sexy knockout.  (He certainly impressed Miss Streisand’s fans in Brooklyn!)
Wilson in “The Conjuring."
Wilson in "Insidious.” 
So it was good news to read that he has joined with box-office champ Liam Neeson for that star’s latest action flick, “The Commuter” with Vera Farmiga. It will be directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who worked with Neeson on “Unknown,” “Run All Night” and “Non-Stop.”
With Vera Farmiga in “The Commuter.”
What would I really like to see Patrick Wilson do?  How about a revival of “Kiss Me, Kate” as the boisterous Petruchio? (Think how he’d look in those tights!)

And, yes, Tony Kushner, I wouldn’t mind a play or TV project — or simply an explanation — on just what happened to Patrick’s Joe Pitt, in “Angels In America.” 
SHOUT OUT Veronica Falcón, one of the major female stars of USA Network’s “Queen of the South.”  Ms. Falcón plays Camilla Vargas, the head of a Mexican drug cartel — ruthless and very much to the point. (Translation — she’d rather not kill you. But, heroin happens.)  
Veronica Falcón as Camilla Vargas, in “Queen of the South.”
Falcón has worked as an actress and choreographer for many years in Mexico and Europe. Though not in the first flush of youth, she is steamingly sexy and attractive — great voice, great legs, great attitude. I doubt she was this potent a presence in her callow 20s. Well, who is?
The series — loosely based on real events — intends to tell about the rise of the show’s other player, the excellent Alice Braga (as Teresa Mendoza).  She transforms from trapped, desperate drug mule to conscience free Queen of the South.
Alice Braga as Teresa Mendoza.
With that plot in mind, I take it that perhaps Camilla/Falcón’s days as ruler are eventually numbered, so catch her while you can on this series. She makes every scene, every languid, dangerous syllable count.

Contact Liz here.