Dennis Hopper and Satya de la Manitou as seen in Along For the Ride

Now is probably not the best time to release a hagiographical salute to one of Hollywood’s most notorious hell raisers, but that’s what the distribution gods have ordained for Along For the Ride (opening at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater on Friday, Dec. 15 — no East Bay play dates are scheduled). Happily — and in spite of its occasionally irksome ‘boys will be boys’ attitude towards subject Dennis Hopper’s near-constant bad behavior — it’s worth a look.

Along For the Ride drinks deep of the Hopper Kool-aid, burnishing the actor/director’s mystique via the (apocryphal?) tales of long-time friend and fixer Satya de la Manitou (which may or may not be a pseudonym — the film doesn’t address the matter, and I was unable to find any evidence one way or the other). Manitou and Hopper became close during the production of Easy Rider and remained friends until the latter’s passing in 2010.

Hopper had been working in film and television since the 1950s, appearing opposite James Dean in two of the iconic star’s three feature films, in dozens of TV shows, and in occasional low-budget features such as Curtis Harrington’s atmospheric 1961 chiller Night Tide. Along For the Ride, however, isn’t terribly interested in those early years: it’s as much Manitou’s story as it is Hopper’s, and that story didn’t begin until 1969.

As soon as his independently produced biker epic began to earn multi-millions for distributor Columbia, Hopper became Tinsel Town’s latest golden boy. Ride director Nick Ebeling spends a significant amount of time examining what happened in the wake of Hopper’s overnight success, focusing on Universal’s decision to give him a large budget and – critically — final cut on his next production.

That film, of course, became the infamous The Last Movie. Shot far from the studio’s supervisory eye in the remotes of Peru (where the local cocaine exerted a significant influence over cast and crew), The Last Movie is a truly remarkable beast; a meta-movie fever-dream that won a major award at the Venice Film Festival before crashing and burning commercially when Universal exec Lew Wasserman refused to release Hopper’s cut (and Hopper refused to re-cut it). The film has largely been unavailable since, and is only now scheduled for Blu-ray release sometime next year.

The balance of Along For the Ride examines Hopper’s slow post-Last Movie slide into Hollywood irrelevance – a slide exacerbated by his refusal to play by the rules or compromise. De la Manitou frames it all as a tale of genius reviled (“He did everything well – like most geniuses do”), and, while there’s some truth to that, it’s likely his friend’s impulsiveness and generally poor decision making played a significant role in his decline.

Well seasoned with interviews with friends and collaborators, including actors Julie Adams, Dean Stockwell and Russ Tamblyn, architect Frank Gehry, musician Mark Mothersbaugh, director Wim Wenders, and the disembodied voice of David Lynch (whose Blue Velvet marked the beginning of Hopper’s mid-’80s comeback), Along For the Ride is a tall tale told extremely well. And I can’t wait for that Blu-ray of The Last Movie

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Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as...