Stephen Lee Naish, "Music and Sound in the Films of Dennis Hopper" (Routledge, 2024)


In Music and Sound in the Films of Dennis Hopper (Routledge,2024), Stephen Lee Naish explores how as a director Dennis Hopper used music and sound to propel the narrative of his work and to signpost the era in which the films were made and the characters' place within American culture. Naish examines five of Hopper's films to show how this deep engagement with music to build character and setting continued throughout his career, as Hopper used folk, punk, hip-hop, and jazz to shape the worlds of his films in ways that influenced other filmmakers and foreshadowed the advent of the music video format. As Naish demonstrates, throughout his career Hopper relied on music to propel his films and tell his stories. 

In Easy Rider, Hopper was one of the first filmmakers to include popular rock, pop, and folk music on a soundtrack. In his sophomore film The Last Movie, Hopper blended diegetic performances of folk and traditional Peruvian indigenous music to create a textured piece of sound art. In Out of the Blue, Hopper used punk rock as a vibrant shock, but also as a reaction to the failed ethos of the past. In 1988's Colors he incorporated hip-hop and rap music to soundtrack the lives of the gang members who rule the streets of Los Angeles. Finally, in his 1990 film The Hot Spot, Hopper commissioned a hybrid soundtrack of jazz/blues by Miles Davis and John Lee Hooker to accompany his steamy neo-noir. Using case studies of five of Hopper's directorial films, Naish aims to uncover the film soundtrack as a vital piece of the narrative, not only in Dennis Hopper's films but in film as a whole. 

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Rebekah Buchanan

Rebekah Buchanan is a Professor of English and Director of English Education at Western Illinois University. Her research focuses on feminism, activism, and literacy practices in youth culture, specifically through zines and music.

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