Easy Rider (1969 USA)

3EasyRiderThe first thing a viewer becomes aware of is how dated it is. There is Peter Fonda, young, thoughtful, soulful. There is Dennis Hopper, young-ish, thoughtless, self-indulgent. And Jack Nicholson actually has hair and a Southern accent, carrying on some monologue about Venusians mating with humans. Fonda explains to Nicholson why smoking dope is better than getting drunk: “How do you do it? Don’t it lead to the hard stuff? I don’t want to get hooked.” As Bob Dylan might sing: don’t preach grandma, I’m only bleeding. The Terry Southern-written script was probably scrawled on the back of a cigarette packet!

There are discussions about the meaning of “freedom” and a kaleidoscopic vision of an acid trip. Much of it seems so terribly earnest and yet we know by now that just about everyone involved in the production — Dennis Hopper in particular — was more or less stoned throughout. And, all of that dated material aside, the movie still packs a wallop. I found a few scenes a little slow. (That exalted commune with the naive youths scattering seeds in the dusty earth; you’d have to be a real shit kicker to agree with Fonda that, “They’ll make it.”) It’s common knowledge now that Fonda, Hopper, and Nicholson don’t make it to Florida. They’re bumped off by rednecks, after being refused service in a café. It seems hard for us to go that far back in time and understand the symbolic significance of the Hippies’ life style.

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What an awful thing a little bit of extra hair was. It’s hard to believe. However, to a modern audience, I feel it’s more of an artifact than a film. One connection it made with me was how it almost shattered that romanticized idea of riding the highways of America. Well, it didn’t shatter it, but it certainly shows the potential emptiness of the experience. I’d still love to drive around America, but I’d gladly ditch the spirituality for clean hotel rooms and nice corpulent plates of Americana. I’d also prefer an uber masculine car. So, given its legacy, ‘Easy Rider’ is a hard film to judge. The year this was shot represented the height of Flower Power. Like all social movement embracing ‘freedom’, it didn’t last long. It turned violent. As Judge Learned Hand put it, “A society in which men recognize no check on their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few.”

But those were the 1960s, the most antinomian (WTF?!) decade in recent history. It seems at times that the freedom they demanded is the freedom to compel everyone else to live the way they themselves do. In any case, let me get down off this soap box. My nose is beginning to bleed from the altitude. It’s a ferruginous (I don’t even know what that means but we are all tripping through this post, right?) chronicle of the times, okay, but it’s sweet too. I like the American hinterlands. They are strangely serene and poetic, a land with the luxury of space where people even wave as you go past. The unseen majority. All that innocence, all that belief, all the beauty of that landscape of the earth and the mind, laid bare on the screen. My parents took me to see this and I left the cinema in tears. Apparently I was weeping before, during and after the film. That can happen when you are one year old….Man.

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