Along For The Ride is a documentary about Dennis Hopper, but it's just as much about someone else: the engimatic Satya De La Manitou, who met Hopper on the commune from Easy Rider—he was part of the commune—and who spent the next forty years of his life as Hopper's right-hand man. Think of him as not just a witness to but a part of film history, or think of him—as director Nick Ebeling does—as a psychedelic Sancho Panza. It's an intimate and charismatic documentary, dedicated fully—like Satya—to the integrity and vision of its subject. Along For The Ride screens on Wed., Sept. 26, at the Regent Theater with an extensive Q&A including Ebeling, Satya De La Manitou, Linda Manz and more—get tickets here! Hat And Beard Press will be releasing the film with a companion book shortly—more info on that here. This interview by Tom Child." /> L.A. Record


September 25th, 2018 | Interviews

Nick Ebeling: I think so. I think Along For The Ride definitely reflects that quote. I even love the line where Satya says Dennis was like a gem and a gem needs to be polished in order to achieve its true brilliance. I think that that’s true with a lot of artists. I think it’s that road you walk.
It makes you wonder how many other people out there haven’t had someone like Satya in their life and have ended up just completely imploding?
Nick Ebeling: And ended up in complete obscurity. There’s a lot of people on that trail as you go back in that era of time. Lots of incredibly brilliant people across film, music, art … I mean, it goes with the territory. I think you hit the nail on the head.
So this is the first of the books on Hopper that Hat and Beard are doing and I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit what’s in this book, and what’s going to be coming in the next books?
Nick Ebeling: We’re really interested in Out of The Blue and helping that film get saved and preserved and doing a comprehensive look at Out of The Blue. Then there’s a book that Dennis did when he got sober called Out of the 60s. It’s a photo book and he did it on a small press, edited it and put it together. It’s that first pass of him looking at that work all those years later. I think the photos are all from between ‘63 and ‘67. It’s an incredible photo book and I had never seen it until we were making the film and it’s really hard to get. He didn’t make a lot of them. It would be incredible to put that first look back for Dennis out again so that people can actually get their hands on it.
Was there anything that you wanted you weren’t able to find? Was there anything that’s totally lost to history that either Satya was looking for and couldn’t find or that you were looking for and weren’t able to find?
Nick Ebeling: It’s great you’re saying this because yes. Yes, yes and yes. There were tons of things that we were trying to find. ‘Do you think you have that jacket from The Last Movie? Do you think you have that cowboy hat?’ Satya kept everything. He’s like a pack rat—he just held on to stuff. I don’t even know if he thought it would be important when he just grabbed it and put it in boxes. None of it was marked so you’d go through the boxes and you’d find, like, a lot pass from Columbia Pictures for Easy Rider and in the same box you’d find notes to Terry Southern in 1976 from a hotel. It was just amazing. So many things in the film were actually unearthed in Satya’s own storage unit that have never been seen before like personal photos. We uncovered all kinds of things. The thing I would have really loved to include which we weren’t able to was that Dennis, Terry Southern and William Burroughs tried to get Junkie—Burroughs’ famous novel about heroin—made in 76. They were in New York and then Dennis and Satya went to Paris and they worked to try to raise money with the French and Dennis was fighting for the rights to get The Last Movie back. It was being recognized by a guy named Henri Langlois in Paris as an interesting film and … they tried, you know? It’s so dark to me. This guy makes Easy Rider than he makes this other film and gets into this battle with the studio and then there’s nothing. There’s just nothing until you get to Out of The Blue. The testament to Dennis’ talent, I think, is that Out of The Blue started as .. Do you know about the film Out of The Blue with Linda Manz from Days of Heaven?
I’ve not seen it. I’m actually more familiar with the time Dennis Hopper blew himself up with dynamite to promote it.
Nick Ebeling: Out of The Blue is kind of hard to see. It’s another one of these movies like The Last Movie that’s really tough to see in this country. Out of The Blue was made somewhere around 1980 and it was a television movie that Dennis was drafted in by Paul Lewis who produced Easy Rider and The Last Movie. It was just a job, right? And Dennis needed work so he came up. The director wasn’t working out and Dennis took over. He rewrote that script and put it together and that movie premiered at Cannes and stopped being a TV movie once he took over. That film influenced Harmony Korine and Chloe Sevigny, Richard Linklater—who was actually at Rice when the Russian Dynamite Chair happened. That was one of Dennis’ really great ideas to get promotion for Out of The Blue. To blow himself up with this rodeo trick. I’ll give you the back story. Dennis was in full excess mode at that point and he did a screening at Rice University of Out of The Blue for college students because he figured a college tour would help get some awareness of this picture here in the states because it got some very good reviews by some reviewers on the east coast and in L.A. but it was having trouble getting distributed. So what he did was a super experimental Q&A where he sat in a different room and had video projections done after the film and then he took everybody out to this racetrack and he had seen these rodeo tricks when he was a kid where people would surround themselves with dynamite and blow themselves up as, like, an attraction, alright? What it does when you blow yourself up like that … if it’s set up the right way it creates a vacuum in the center where you are. So you won’t die, right? But if one little thing is off, it’s over. You’re fucking dead. He had a stunt guy set it up for him. I mean, it’s a crazy horrible idea. He thought, I think, that it would help get press for this film that he was so passionate about that he had just made that premiered at Cannes and Jack Nicholson thought it was brilliant. So did Warren Beatty. They were there with Reds and they came to him and were trying to help him with it and he just couldn’t get any traction. I think it was 82 that he blew himself up. Shortly after that, like in the movie, Satya had to take him to get help. ‘Dennis, you’re not Houdini,’ as Satya pointed out. It’s fucking crazy man, you know?
Amazing he lived as long as he did, yeah.
Nick Ebeling: He’s still alive in a way because every time I turn on the TV, Speed’s on or Easy Rider’s on or River’s Edge.
There’s so many stories about people’s adventures with Hopper and I’m wondering if there’s one that just barely didn’t make the cut. What’s the best story that you just couldn’t include in the documentary?
Nick Ebeling: Oh man, it was like wrist cutting. Luckily in the book we have, like, 25 of those great stories and [we’d] gone back to some photographers who couldn’t speak in a film. I know I told the story already about Junkie, which was really cool. There’s also a really great thing with Danny Trejo who became friends with Dennis in Venice Beach in the early 80s.
That must have been a pair.
Nick Ebeling: They got sober together. It’s before Danny was even really an actor and they got really tight and Dennis talked to Danny about acting at that time when they were cleaning up. There’s this Wim Wenders movie that not many people know about. [Dennis’ last film Palermo Shooting, which was also produced by Jeremy Thomas and directed by Wim Wenders—ed. via Hat & Beard.] It was produced by Jeremy Thomas who did a great film called Sexy Beast that you may know. But he started with Dennis. His first movie was Mad Dog Morgan. [Palermo Shooting] was Satya and Dennis’ last performance in a major motion picture together. Satya was assisting and had a very small cameo. Anyway, they were making that film and Satya was kind of near the town where his grandfather had come from. They were in Palermo at the time and he really wanted to see his family’s hometown and you know … when you work for Dennis, you’re working for Dennis, you know? It was a lot of, like, ‘I’m doing what you want to do’ kind of stuff. I guess Satya was just bugging him to go see it with with him and Dennis was like, ‘No, man, no. It’s too early, we got to leave, I’m gonna sleep late.’ So Satya starts banging on his door, right? Satya is this fucking dynamic force. There’s a reason he worked for Dennis. You get a feel for it with him. J.C. from Hat and Beard calls him a hippie drifter. He’s very smart and a very cool dude. So he, like, conned the front desk guy to let him in the room. He tip-toed in the room—and this may become a bonus feature when we do the special extended version that they’ve asked us to do—and he convinces Dennis to go with him and Dennis says, ‘Okay, we’re turning the car around if it starts raining and we’re going back to the hotel.’ They go out to the car and Dennis brings his Leica with him because he had started shooting pictures again. They get in the car and Satya had ingratiated himself with the driver, stuffed a bunch of money in his pocket and said, ‘If Dennis says anything to you about turning the car around, just say you don’t speak English.’ So it starts raining, right? And the guy’s just like, ‘No capisce!’ And he drives them all the way to the town and Satya gets to see where his grandfather came from. It meant a lot to him. So they see this flock of sheep walking and the sun breaks through like one of those Hollywood moments and they see a black sheep right in the middle and Hopper goes, ‘That’s you, Satya’ and took a photo. That photo is on the wall of his house and every one of his family members’ houses and you know … it was like that moment of the celebrity saying, ‘We’re buddies.’
That’s an incredible story. The film ends with you taking Satya to Peru to see where The Last Movie was filmed, the movie that changed Hopper’s life and Satya’s life and your life. What was that like for both of you? Was he ready for it? Were you? What was that experience like?
Nick Ebeling: For Satya, it was like confronting something because he had the opportunity to go to The Last Movie [filming] and didn’t. I had always said, ‘Hey, we’re going to Peru. We’re going to Chinchero.’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever.’ Most documentaries are not like this. They don’t approach thing like the way that this film was handled. It’s talking heads/cut to footage/reenactment/whatever, you know? Luckily for Satya, I love movies like Don’t Look Back—things that go in a different way. So I was able to convince a few more buddies to give me their airline miles, sold a few records out of my already dwindling great record collection, most of which is totally gone now… but don’t feel too sorry for me! Because as it got going, more people were, like, ‘OK, we see what you’re doing and we’re going to help you.’ It isn’t the kind of story where anybody wrote us a blank check. It was very, very little but we made it happen. We got down there kind of at the end. Venice Film Festival had heard about what we were doing and they flew out to come see it when we were in the editing room and they loved our spirit, I guess, and they told us there was a strong chance … but now or never, right? So we got this skeleton crew. There were three of us and Satya and we got up there not knowing what to expect. The first person I met when we got out of that minivan in Chinchero was Dennis’ guide, who’s in The Last Movie. His name was Tomas. Call it cosmic or whatever. There was a lot of crazy shit like that that happened on this picture. He brought us into his home with his wife and children and they had this little shop and we start looking around and I love those ponchos that everybody’s rocking in The Last Movie. They don’t make them like that anymore, right? I asked if he had any of those Last Movie ponchos and he had his granddaughter go back to the house and they brought out The Last Movie ponchos and gave them to us. Then he took us on a walk down the Aztec highway to where the waterfall sequence in The Last Movie was shot, which was incredible. It’ll probably be a bonus feature because it was a piece that we had to cut. So that spirit started hitting us and I stopped approaching everything like we had approached it before. I always felt like we had approached it differently than a standard documentary. I was inspired by Dennis’ photographs and I wanted to properly light these people who I thought were amazing people and give them respect and Satya’s leading the journey. He’s the spine of everything. It always had that vibe, you know? But we got up there and you could barely breathe and nobody wanted to talk to each other and I just looked around at this great, incredible town square in Chinchero at 13,000 feet where they shot my favorite movie of all time, right? My favorite shot in cinema history is Hopper riding into that square right into Sam Fuller, which you’ll see when you see the film. I just love it. László Kovács shot it—one of my favorite cinematographers of all time. He’s got these reflectors that just blow it out and it’s a brilliant shot. And we’re standing there, right? And not much has changed in 45 years. I don’t think much has changed in maybe 200 years. We just all looked at each other and we’re, like, ‘OK, OK, let’s go to work.’ We just started plotting it out. We stood in a circle, got a pen and paper, started talking about it and as we started shooting, things started happening around us. Thunder. The light moved. We shot all of it in sequence and a funeral procession came past us that we didn’t know was going to come past us, just like in The Last Movie. That’s how that happened. We walked out to that spot, that haunting photo were Dennis is looking out at the mountain with the clouds and the bamboo camera. We were all doing very little talking, very telepathic. We all kind of went there and I’m very proud. That to me is my proudest moment as an artist—what we did there.
What do you hope the book series and the documentary will do for Hopper’s legacy and reputation?
Nick Ebeling: I think it’s to recognize the many sides of him and to not dismiss him as a lot of people dismiss him and that period of him as … a hippie fuck up, to be really frank. I think The Last Movie is incredible. That film changed my life. I think Easy Rider is an incredible film as well. As we got deeper through it, I’ve never seen anybody else like him. He’s just totally unique. Meeting Hopper for that brief amount of time in 1994 altered my life. It set me on an amazing trajectory. When I met Satya, I was jaded. I was really considering hanging it up and doing anything else. I was tired of this whole fucking place but meeting Satya … he fucking woke me up again and I got to go on this journey with him and meet all these incredible people and I made a film that I’m very much proud of and he’s very much proud of. Both those guys—Satya De La Manitou and Hopper—bookended me, creatively. I’m very thankful for that.


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