Wasn't born to follow: Easy Rider
Aug 9, 2009 (Updated Aug 9, 2009)
by George Chabot
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Peter Fonda, Nicholson, Hopper, Harley motorcycles; Rock music soundtrack
The Bottom Line: A coming of age flick for the baby boom generation. Dated, but still packs a wallop
Easy Rider (1969)
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They'll talk to ya and talk to ya and talk to ya about individual freedom. But they see a free individual, it's gonna scare 'em. George Hanson
The mid-sixties had quite a few low budget bike exploitation flicks featuring outlaw motorcyclists that harked back to the original Wild One with Marlon Brando. Peter Fonda had made a few of the movies himself like The Wild Angels and Dennis Hopper had made movies his entire life as an actor but now decided to direct. Easy Rider was a staple of the drive in movies for quite a few years during the 70s and many of us saw it there repeatedly as I did. Jack Nicholson, the third guy on the motorcycle played in Hells Angels on Wheels, another bikesploitation flick.
These biker films appealed to the non conformist in us all and appeared just at the time the hippie generation was emerging showing the social impact of wanting to be "different."
Easy Rider was a look at a lifestyle that most viewers could only dream of and it earned some $17 million from an initial outlay of $400,000.
A pair of long haired whiskered guys (Fonda and Hopper) buy some cocaine in Mexico and sell it up in Lost Angeles, making a good profit that they use to buy a couple of custom motorcycles and drop out to see the country with the initial aim of seeing Mardi Gras about a week ahead. Popular rock music is used in the scenes with Steppenwolf's The Pusher and Born to be Wild setting the pace as the new style of music is used in place of a traditional music score. The guys drive across the southern USA through very scenic and empty territory. The trip is generally showing the motorcycles driving and a few stops are shown. A common thread shows the anger they provoke just trying to get along in various scenes; like when the motel turns them away with the No Vacancy sign early in the trip.
They pick up a hitchhiker and he takes them to a commune where hippies are trying to grow grain in desert conditions. Not too smart at farming but it showed the bikers getting along with some other people and smoking some marijuana. As they depart the commune the hippies slip Captain America (Fonda) a couple doses of acid. They soon get locked up for parading without a license and meet the irrepressible George Hanson (Jack Nicholson) a hard drinking lawyer who decides to accompany them to Mardi Gras to see the House of Blue Lights - a famous bordello.
The conversations with Nicholson finally give some structure to the film. Like the speech he gives about freedom
Freedom; oh, yeah, that's right. That's what's it's all about, all right. But talkin' about it and bein' it, that's two different things. I mean, it's real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace. Of course, don't ever tell anybody that they're not free, 'cause then they're gonna get real busy killin' and maimin' to prove to you that they are. Oh, yeah, they're gonna talk to you, and talk to you, and talk to you about individual freedom. But they see a free individual, it's gonna scare 'em. ... It makes em dangerous.
If there is any underlying theme to the movie, that's it and little inserted video clips foreshadow the inevitable ending throughout the rest of the journey. A stop at a small town diner gets them a lot of static from the inbred locals and the bikers soon leave. They are set upon by a pack of local thugs who beat them with axe handles and kill George (Nicholson). Freedom ain't free, man.
The lawyer with the gold football helmet was the perfect foil for the two bikers. He was the typical American and could latch hold of their dream for just a minute or two, something much of the audience would like to do as well. The bikers continue on to Mardi Gras and the House of Blue Lights, have a fling with a pair of hookers and then ride into the sunset as they head into Florida. I'll let you watch the ending for yourself.
The story, such as it was, was written by Fonda, Hopper, and Terry Southern with a lot of improvisation. The cinematography by Laszlo Kovacs is excellent and probably the high point of the experience along with the Rock hit soundtrack.
The Columbia Tristar DVD is presented in color in 1.85:1 theatrical format with a 95 minute running time. Extra features include a full-length commentary by director/star Dennis Hopper and a 65-minute featurette called Shaking the Cage.
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