Easy Rider (1969)
Release Date: July 14th, 1969 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Dennis Hopper Actors: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Phil Spector, Luke Askew, Luana Anders, Sabrina Scharf, Antonio Mendoza, Sandy Wyeth, Jack Nicholson, Toni Basil, Karen Black
ut back behind the La Contenta Bar in Mexico, bikers Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) score some cocaine before heading (smuggling it) to a Los Angeles airport to sell it for a profit. Afterwards, they trek across the American Southwest with their choppers and carefully concealed cash, envisioning reaching New Orleans to take in the sights, sounds, and festivities of Mardi Gras. Along the way, they pick up a hitchhiker (Luke Askew) and take him to his overcrowded commune in the desert, where dozens of families futilely attempt to harvest crops (while also focusing quite a bit on singing, playing music, and putting on theater shows as entertainment).
“Don’t worry, Billy. Everything’s all right.” Wyatt (nicknamed “Captain America” and adorned in stars and stripes, blending patriotism with rebellion) seems concerned about nothing, even when they land in the slammer for parading without a permit; Billy is certainly more paranoid and distressed over the various situations that could impede or halt their journey. It’s inside the jail cell where they meet shady young lawyer and perpetual drunk George Hanson (Jack Nicholson), who arranges their release. To escape the monotony of his drinking routines, Hanson tags along, joining in on their adventures on the road and experiencing firsthand the intolerances of people unfamiliar and fearful of the freedom and revolutionary lifestyle they represent.
Bikes may take the place of horses, but “Easy Rider” definitely possesses a neo-Western vibe, comparable in its lighthearted, carefree attitude (as well as the occasional bit of violence and the compelling finale) to “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” from the same year. The two leads similarly symbolize ideas that either no longer fit in with changing times, or are scarily edging in on a conservative majority. As the most popular of counterculture projects of the ‘60s, the film was met with critical and financial successes, which proved that experimental, underground works could be profitable, while also connecting with many viewers in its dually presented exhibition and rebuking of hippie culture.
The soundtrack, featuring such classics as “Born to Be Wild” and “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” is about as notable as the low-budget, improvisational, artistic, realistic, and renegade filmmaking styles that abound as the picture progresses. It also spices up lengthy sequences of driving across desolate blacktop. What it doesn’t interfere with is plenty of dialogue in the form of nearly nonsensical conversations, repetitious pondering, acid trip tangents, and undoubted naturalism – not only as if the conversations were made up spontaneously, but also as if the cast was genuinely intoxicated by the drugs they partook in (the clarification of the word “dude” as slang and George’s timidity toward trying marijuana for the first time, afraid of its effects, are particularly indicative of encroaching societal shifts). But despite the engaging look, themes, and editing, the story is largely lacking and drastically unhurried, preoccupied with un-cinematic activities like bathing, strolling through weedy hillsides, eating, and reclining – intent on making a point by way of avant-garde techniques and approaches as opposed to traditional storytelling and a more impactful presentation of weighty concepts. “Easy Rider’s” significance as potent antiestablishment propaganda far exceeds its delivery of satisfying entertainment.
– Mike Massie