James Dean only made three feature films as a proper credited actor. Dennis Hopper was in two of them. Hopper also co-starred in Apocalypse Now and directed Easy Rider, so his place is movie history is already secure. Few Hollywood survivors could top Hopper’s anecdotes of chaos and excess, but fortunately his longtime friend and right-hand-man Satya De La Manitou knows almost all of them, because he witnessed them first-hand. De La Manitou pays homage to the industry rebel in Nick Ebeling’s Along for the Ride (trailer here), which opens today in New York.
De La Manitou joined Team Hopper shortly before the production of The Last Movie, which would become something like his Apocalypse Now, but with far worse career repercussions. Nevertheless, it made a tremendous impression on De La Manitou and takes more screen time in Ride than any other Hopper project. It was a passion project that followed Easy Rider, still considered the most successful independently produced film of all time. Unfortunately, Universal did not get it. As a result, he was essentially black-balled from studio projects.
Of course, Hopper would have second, third, fourth, and fifth acts. Aside from The Last Movie, there is a fair amount of discussion focused on Out of the Blue, Apocalypse Now, Mad Dog Morgan, American Friend, and Blue Velvet, with a bit of Colors shoehorned in, as well. Some fans will inevitably be disappointed memorable later projects like Hoosiers (which earned him an Oscar nomination), Red Rock West, O.C. and Stiggs, Speed, The Hot Spot, and season one of 24 are essentially ignored, but that is the downside to having such a diverse and distinctive body of work.
On the other hand, there are plenty of stories involving booze, drugs, and telling off studio executives, because this is Dennis Hopper. Ebeling and De La Manitou appreciate his “bad boy” mystique and persona, shrewdly using it as the thin edge of the wedge to build appreciate for Hopper as an artist. In addition to De La Manitou, Ebeling secured entertaining interviews with contemporaries like Russ Tamblyn and Dean Stockwell, artists including Julian Schnabel and Ed Ruscha, former co-stars, such as Michael Madsen and Dwight Yoakam, and Hopper’s brother David. As you would expect, everyone has a Dennis Hopper story.
Despite consisting largely of breezy reminiscences, Ebeling executes Ride with a fair degree of style. Hopper was one of the best talk show guests perhaps ever, just because he was always willing to discuss his own life with humor and candor. Ebeling and De La Manitou give us the Hopper we’ve been missing, while making their case for The Last Movie. Recommended for fans of Hopper and 1970s & 1980s cinema, Along for the Ride opens today (11/3) in New York, at the Metrograph.