Posts Tagged ‘Easy Rider’

Movie Reviews 412 – Easy Rider (1969)

October 31, 2019

When Peter Fonda passed away this past summer, it was the end of an era of sorts. Never having achieved the stardom of his father Henry or his sister Jane, the black sheep of the family will forever be recognized for his role in Easy Rider, a film he wrote and produced with director and co-star Dennis Hopper released fifty years ago. A defining moment for the rebellious sixties youth movement that many would say reached its apex that year, the film also presented a radical departure from traditional storytelling, with an emphasis on characters, and a minimalist almost inconsequential plot.

The story centers on two bikers who have just scored a small fortune after flipping a load of cocaine from some Mexicans operating from a dust filled pueblo to a rich dealer chauffeured in a Rolls Royce (a cameo role for renown and now reviled music producer Phil Spector). After the score, “Captain America” (Fonda) and Billy (Hopper) make their way to New Orleans for the Mardi Gras carnival, picking up a hitchhiker (Antonio Mendoza), an alcoholic small town lawyer (Jack Nicholson), visiting a commune, spending a bit of time in the slammer, before finally pairing up with some hookers (Karen Black and Toni Basil) in The Big Easy.

The film chronicles multiple journeys. On the surface we have the internal journey of flag draped pessimist Captain America. His timid soul searching (between acid trips) a sharp contrast to that of folded brim slouch hat wearing Billy who is optimistic of their fortunes while not trusting anyone. On the other hand the celluloid journey captures the panoramic beauty of the desert vistas across America itself as the boys roll on the highways. Once could easily claim that the vehicles of this journey, the two iconic chopper motorcycles they ride are just as much the stars of the film as any of the human actors.

Capturing the essence of this sixties youth would of course be inconsequential without a fitting the music score, and in that regard Easy Rider delivers from the outset with Steppenwolf’s Born to be Wild and The Weight (Robbie Robertson/The Band) with a sprinkling of Hendrix, The Byrds and Roger McGuinn (allegedly the main characters being loosely based on McGuinn and David Crosby of The Byrds).

Numerous scenes highlight the dichotomy of the hippie, freewheeling lifestyle compared to mainstream America including a small town restaurant scene in which local townsfolk were employed to provide a realistic point of view of the disparity. The symbolism of seeing Captain America hoisting his bike to repair a tire while a farmer re-shoes his horse only a few feet away is unmistakable. The film ominously concludes with a memorable, jarring, perhaps overly harsh statement on that tenuous bridge between those two worlds.

Watching the film I couldn’t help but wonder how many of those stunning open highway landscapes are now dotted with condos, parking lots and fast food outlets. It’s far from a perfect film, but it does effectively capture a time that is now lost.