(Catchfire, Dennis Hopper, USA, 1989)


Dennis Hopper’s Backtrack (working title: Do It the Hard Way) was initially the victim of the incomprehension of its producers and the collapse of the company Vestron, which supported many intriguing films. It first existed in a shortened, European cut disowned by the director, as Catchfire, credited to the mythical Alan Smithee – minus much plot, several guest stars, a sex scene between Foster and Hopper that can be glimpsed on the video trailer, and a Neil Young soundtrack. Alas, it is the only version I have so far seen.

Catchfire is, nonetheless, a fascinating curiosity. Jodie Foster plays a disaffected "wall-socket artist" – a maker of multi-media installations that closely resemble those of Jenny Holzer – who witnesses a mob murder and runs for her life. Both happily and unhappily, she falls in love with her hitman (played by Hopper at his most eccentric).

Tantalising themes of transgression, romance, self-discovery and gangster ethics flit in and out of the film, and in this version never quite add up. Still, the messy, random pleasures of Hopper’s distinctively all-in approach to filmmaking – his movies are more like circuses or parties than conventionally well-constructed dramas – make Catchfire worth experiencing. The smorgasbord cast, including unusual turns from John Turturro and Joe Pesci, add to the flavour.

MORE Hopper: Chasers, The Hot Spot

© Adrian Martin November 1991/May 1993

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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