Tuna's notes in white:
Easy Rider (1969) is a seminal work of the 60s. In case someone reading this has not seen this low
budget film, the plot is rather simple. Dennis Hopper, who co-wrote
and directed, and Peter Fonda, who co-wrote and produced, are outlaw
bikers. After a successful coke sale, they take a road trip from LA
to Mardi Gras. Along the way, they spend time in a hippy commune,
and then are arrested in a small town for parading without a
license. They find themselves in a cell with Jack Nicholson, an
alcoholic lawyer who has worked for the ACLU. Jack joins them.
Camping outside a small Louisiana town, the locals beat Nicholson to
death for hanging around long haired freaks. Hopper and Fonda make
it to Mardi Gras, visit a whore house, and take two ladies on a tour
of Mardi Gras and have an acid trip in a cemetery. On their way out
of town, locals shoot both of them. Just before, there is an
important discussion around a campfire, where Hopper is excited
about having scored with the dope deal, and that they can now retire
in Florida. Fonda only says, "We blew it."
While the music was very nostalgic, and was the first time that
"found music" was used in a film, I was not impressed watching it.
It was sort of old news. The "we blew it" line did puzzle me. Thank
god for a featurette also on the DVD. In a very real sense, the MPAA
was directly responsible for this film being made. LBJ had just
created the MPAA and put Jack Valenti in charge. Peter Fonda was in
Toronto promoting The Trip, and heard Valenti's first public speech.
Valenti said, "My friends, you are my friends, we have to stop
making movies about motorcycles, sex and drugs, and make more movies
like Doctor Dolittle." Fonda went back to his hotel, fired up a
couple of joints, had a Heini, and was signing publicity photos, and
suddenly knew what he wanted to do for his next film. He woke Hopper
out of a sound sleep to get him interested in the project.
The featurette is chock full of anecdotes about the making of the
film, and the attitudes they encountered shooting in the south. Most
interesting of all was Hopper's explanation of the "we blew it"
phrase. According to Hopper, the film is actually an anti-counter
culture message. The two "outlaws," by exercising their version of
freedom, were actually destroying their country, and with it, their
freedom. I would never have guessed that. Indeed, the film was
interpreted very subjectively wherever it played. In Texas, they
cheered the killing of the outlaw long hair hippy freaks, while
California audiences stood up and screamed "off the pigs," which, in
a way, makes Hopper's point about "we blew it."
Hopper claims that he was trying to make a "European art film" and
hoped to win at Cannes. Not all of the talent was in front
of the camera. László Kovács was
the DP, and did amazing work. Bob Dylan wrote lyrics for a song for
There is no doubt about the importance of this
film, but I found the back story far more compelling than the film
itself viewing it from the perspective of 36 years later.
Scoop's comments in yellow:
A very important landmark in the history of film:
(1) It virtually created the massive youth market of
the 70s and 80s by demonstrating that a youth-oriented independent film
could be highly profitable even if made on the cheap.
(2) Since it was a massive crossover hit, it exposed Jack
Nicholson to the world. This wrested him from the obscure genre
films of his early career and made him a star, eventually THE cinema
icon of his generation.
(3) If you are an early baby boomer, born just after
the war, this movie will bring back your youth. It is a perfect
encapsulation of the broth and marrow of the 60s Zeitgeist. It portrays
the divisive nature of America in the Vietnam era, and was a
cultural touchstone that celebrated the motto of the
counter-culture: "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll." Your attitude
toward this movie showed whether you were with us or agin' us.
(4) The soundtrack is still one of my
favorite albums, featuring classic 60s anthems like "The Weight" and
"Born to be Wild." There is quite a story behind it. When it was
first screened for Columbia executives, Hopper had not yet scored
it, so he just stuck some oldies in there to show where the music
would go. The studio boys, also owning Columbia Records, smelled the
greenbacks and said "leave it that way." Thus was created, when the album and
the movie both scored big, a whole new way to score
As for the movie. Well, it stinks, frankly.
essentially about a couple of lowlife drug dealers who drive around
for a while, go to a whorehouse, then get blown away by a bunch of lowlife rednecks.
It is generally misunderstood to be about "hippies" versus
"straights", but the Fonda and Hopper characters are in fact
capitalist profiteers with long hair, not anti-capitalist hippies.
Real hippies didn't buy hookers and sell cocaine.
The Kovacs photography is generally
solid, but even there some of the devices are a real hoot when
viewed today (fish eye lens to show a "trip", e.g.).
The acting is incredibly inept except
for Jack Nicholson, who is as brilliant as ever. Fonda and Hopper
were barely above the amateur level, if at all, and much of the cast
really does consist of amateurs, just people they met on location as
they were filming. It may seem like a good idea to have local
sheriffs and waitresses played by real local sheriffs and
waitresses, but it is a much better idea in theory than in practice.
The editing was ... I don't
think there was any editing, to tell ya the truth. If there was an
editor, the guy had been smoking some serious reefer.