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Hopper speaks

Plus the original Rin Tin Tin
By GERALD PEARY  |  May 29, 2007

CLASH OF THE WOLVES: Think of Rinty as a canine Superman.

I recall meeting an artist who hung with Edward Hopper during the summers he spent on the Lower Cape. This artist’s memory was of the great painter and his wife, Josephine Nivison Hopper, coming into Provincetown for dinner: Josephine would chatter to everyone until the ever-silent Hopper ended the evening by snarling at his spouse, “Jo, let’s go home!”

You get some peeks at the house in which the Hoppers resided, an A-frame on a hill in South Truro, in Brian O’Doherty’s 1981 documentary Hopper’s Silence, which screens at the Museum of Fine Arts next Thursday, June 7, as a complement to the MFA’s Hopper retrospective. But the actual path to the house, off a one-lane country road somewhere west of Route 6, remains elusive in the film. Eager tourists (like me) would not be able to find our way and pester the current residents for a look-around. Hopper died in NYC in 1967; Josephine followed 10 months later.

Hopper’s Silence calls itself “a memoir,” being the recollections (in gushy voiceover) of O’Doherty. He knew the Hoppers intimately, and he interviewed them together for an MFA/WGBH TV program. The most fabulous sections of his documentary are its inclusions from that 1967 conversation. There’s the tall, grim, reticent man who answers questions about his art with tremendous strain, staring down at the TV-studio floor: “Light? Yes, I’m interested in light. I attempted to paint a white sunlight, instead of the usual yellow one.”

And then there’s Josephine, speaking of the hurts in her life: “Men are not grateful creatures. It’s women who remember.” She sacrificed her own career (they both studied with Robert Henri) to support her husband’s; she even served as his chief model. Seated behind her, Hopper quietly eyes his wife, probably chagrined by her on-the-air revelations.

The Rin Tin Tin I know from childhood is the affably barking German shepherd on the 1950s television series that was set in a fort in the Old West. “Rinty” would often rescue the American cavalry troupe stationed there by leaping on, and taking a chunk out of, some hostile Apache. Was this where American soldiers learned to unleash German shepherds on Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib?

The original Rin Tin Tin was a puppy who in 1918 was rescued from a bombed-out kennel in Germany. Corporal Lee Duncan brought him to America, where, before his death in 1932, he starred in 26 adventure films for Warner Brothers. Clash of the Wolves (1925) — which screens this Sunday, June 3, at the Coolidge Corner, part of its “Sounds of Silents” series, with an original piano score performed by Martin Marks — is a rare chance to see him in action. Rinty plays a half-wolf named Lobo who’s living in the wild with his pack. After being wounded by a posse of locals, Lobo is tamed by the good-guy cowpoke hero (Charles Farrell), and he helps his benefactor against the bad guy with the suspicious moustache. Sound familiar? It is, but Rinty can leap walls like a canine Superman, and there’s a great thespian sequence when he’s taken down with a thorn in his paw. What credible suffering!

There’s more live piano from Donald Sosin and Joanna Seaton when The Kid Brother screens June 10 at 11 am. (Pandora’s Box finishes up “Sounds of Silents” on June 24.) This one’s a second-tier Harold Lloyd comedy, with the bespectacled chap playing a youngest sibling who does the cooking and laundry for his two burly adult brothers and strong-arm dad. They dislike and disrespect him, of course — until he rescues them with help from his famous acrobatics, aboard a ghost ship.

Related: Holiday books, Sin city, Power suit, More more >
  Topics: Film Culture , Cultural Institutions and Parks, Museums, Museum of Fine Arts,  More more >
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