Dennis Hopper, 1936-2010

Death of a “a C-list Method actor of the Fifties with anger-management issues”.

Dennis Hopper, who died yesterday at the age of 74, figured prominently in David Flusfeder's recent piece for the NS on the "outlaw cinema" of 1970s Hollywood. Flusfeder's article was organised around a photograph of Hopper at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival in the company of the directors Donald Cammell, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Kenneth Anger.

Hopper is described, memorably, as "a C-list Method actor of the Fifties with anger-management issues who is still cruising after his directorial debut, Easy Rider". Flusfeder identifies that film, which has loomed large in the media reaction to Hopper's death, as

the beginning of the second golden age of American cinema, "outlaw Hollywood". The astonishing success of Easy Rider had taught the studios that music and drugs and radicalism made for good box office. There was an audience appetite for a cinema of anxiety and meaning -- or, if not actual meaning, then at least a search for it, with a rock'n'roll soundtrack.

But Hopper's finest hour, as an actor at least, wasn't Easy Rider, nor Rebel Without a Cause nor Apocalypse Now; it was his performance as Tom Ripley in Wim Wenders's 1977 film The American Friend, an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel Ripley's Game. In this scene, Ripley visits Derwatt, a painter-turned-forger played by the director Nicholas Ray (who had directed Hopper in Rebel more than 20 years earlier):

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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Why do the words “soup, swoop, loop de loop” come to mind every time I lift a spoon to my lips?

It’s all thanks to Barry and Anita.

A while ago I was lending a friend the keys to our house. We keep spare keys in a ceramic pot I was given years ago by someone who made it while on an art-school pottery course. “That’s er . . . quite challenging,” the friend said of the pot.

“Is it?” I replied. “I’d stopped noticing how ugly it is.”

“Then it’s a grunty,” she said.

“A what?” I asked.

“A grunty. It’s something you have in your house that’s hideous and useless but you’ve stopped noticing it completely, so it’s effectively invisible.”

I was much taken with this idea and realised that as well as “grunties” there are also “gruntyisms”: things you say or do, though the reason why you say or do them has long since been forgotten. For example, every time we drink soup my wife and I say the same thing, uttered in a strange monotone: we say, “Soup, swoop, loop de loop.” How we came to say “soup, swoop, loop de loop” came about like this.

For a married couple, the years between your mid-thirties and your late forties might be seen as the decade of the bad dinner party. You’re no longer looking for a partner, so the hormonal urge to visit crowded bars has receded, but you are still full of energy so you don’t want to stay in at night, either. Instead, you go to dinner parties attended by other couples you don’t necessarily like that much.

One such couple were called Barry and Anita. Every time we ate at their house Barry would make soup, and when serving it he would invariably say, “There we are: soup, swoop, loop de loop.” After the dinner party, as soon as we were in the minicab going home, me and Linda would start drunkenly talking about what an arse Barry was, saying to each other, in a high-pitched, mocking imitation of his voice: “Please do have some more of this delicious soup, swoop, loop de loop.” Then we’d collapse against each other laughing, convincing the Algerian or Bengali taxi driver once again of the impenetrability and corruption of Western society.

Pretty soon whenever we had soup at home, Linda and I would say to each other, “Soup, swoop, loop de loop,” at first still ridiculing Barry, but eventually we forgot why we were saying it and it became part of the private language every couple develop, employed long after we’d gratefully ceased having soupy dinners with Barry and Anita.

In the early Nineties we had an exchange student staying with us for a year, a Maori girl from the Cook Islands in the southern Pacific. When she returned home she took the expression “soup, swoop, loop de loop” with her and spread it among her extended family, until finally the phrase appeared in an anthropological dissertation: “ ‘Soup swoop, loop de loop.’ Shamanistic Incantations in Rarotongan Food Preparation Rituals” – University of Topeka, 2001. 

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt