Dear Dennis

1988 | 00:05:18 | United States | English | Color | Mono | 4:3 | Video

Collection: Single Titles

Tags: Film or Videomaking, Health, Hollywood, Media Analysis, Performance, Surveillance

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Susan Mogul's fantasies of success have always a comic, congenial twist, as in Dear Dennis, a video letter to Dennis Hopper inspired by her discovery that they share the same dentist. The central irony of this witty piece is that, despite Hopper's popular persona as an innovative, sub-cultural filmmaker and performer, the actual distance between his so-called independent" films and Mogul's experimental, non-commercial videos prevents Susan from finding any common ground from which to address Hopper other than the subject of dental work. In the first scene, for example, Mogul brushes her teeth to the tune of "C.C. Rider," a play on Easy Rider, Hopper's claim to alternative fame, and opens wide to show the camera her cracked tooth that needs a root canal and a five-hundred dollar gold crown.

The third and best segment, introduces Susan reading in bed, hidden behind the pages of the L.A. Weekly, whose cover story about gang warfare is counterposed to Streisand's rendition of "Something's Comin” from West Side Story, playing in the background. Susan eventually lowers the paper to address the camera, and reveals a bruised and swollen face. She tells Dennis that she recently saw his feature, Colors, in her east side neighborhood, and while she never offers her opinion of the film per se, she does imply that the riot which ensued during the screening ultimately saved her an expensive dental bill, as the problem tooth, which she raises for his inspection, has been conveniently knocked from her head. By putting Colors in a context juxtaposing a journalistic account of real city gangs with a pop song that romanticizes gang warfare as a musical fantasy, and by suggesting that the film's worth can best be measured in terms of its exchange value, Mogul subtly implies that Hopper's work neutralizes sub-cultural practices and renews their potential as Hollywood commodities.

In the work's final segment, set to a German rendition of "Mack the Knife," Mogul presents to Dennis a necklace made from her own teeth, a ludicrous piece of folk art that oddly is designed to attract Hopper's attention in the probable absence of his interest in her video. The entire premise is ridiculous, but Mogul's deadpan panache gives the work an ingenuous urgency that creates drama out of the mundane. And unlike the man whom her letter addresses, Mogul never sells out her integrity as an artist (or as a woman) in her efforts to earn recognition. The video retains her episodic, low-tech, unpretentious signature style and avoids trying to impress Hopper with flash and glamour. That Hopper has never responded to Mogul's letter is telling in itself; as a video whose diaristic vernacular resists cinematic appropriation and whose seduction denies sex, Dear Dennis exposes little that the man can sink his teeth into."

—James Moran, excerpt from "Susan Mogul: At Home in Los Angeles", Wide Angle, Volume 20, No. 3 (July 1998)

 

Exhibitions + Festivals

 

Mogul Retrospective, Visions du Reel International Film Festival, 2009

California Video, Getty Museum, Los Angeles 2008
 

Sunshine & Noir, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, 1998

Castello di Rivoli, Turin, Italy, 1998

Louisiana Museum for Moderne Kunst, Humleboek, Denmark, 1997

Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Germany,1997