Taking a trip with Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson…
The scenery, sounds and story of a Motorcycle themed Western filmed in late 1960s America.
Easy Rider (1969) – Original Trailer , OldSchoolTrailers
Cinema has always adored the Western genre. The lure and love of the Old Frontier regaled in classic Westerns with good guys and bad guys. Horses, stetsons and rural backdrops. The 1970s brought Sci-fi Westerns such as Westworld (1973). Featuring one of The Magnificent Seven (1960), Yul Brynner as a robot out for revenge. In the 1980s, Space Westerns came to the fore with Outland (1981), director Peter Hyams vision of High Noon (1952) in space. Filmed the late 1960s, Easy Rider (1969) is like a bridge between classic Westerns and these Western subgenres. This film, Peter Fonda – the star, producer and co-writer – called “a modern western set on motorbikes”. With two motorcycle riding hippies showing a New Frontier with choppers, motorbike helmets and the oil industry.
Two leads of the classic and this motorcycle themed Western subgenre, ironically part of a strong acting dynasty, a father and son. The Fondas. With Henry Fonda in the former, and son Peter Fonda in the latter. Both these Western types captured together in Easy Rider showing a scene with a horseshoe being replaced in the foreground, and a motorcycle being fixed in the background. The horse being “skittish” at the sound of the bicycle, representing those from the older generations being fearful of this younger population. and their more anti-establishment ways. But these symbols showing how this emerging subculture will become the a radical force in a New Wave of cinema replacing those more carefree chirpier movies made in the sixties.
The story starting with a drug deal down Mexico way where our anti-heroes, a couple of hippies Wyatt (Fonda) and Billy (Hopper) procure some cocaine. The pair smuggle this into America (off-screen), then seen selling this on to a contact (Phil Spector) in Los Angeles. This money concealed in a tube in Wyatt’s fuel tank, before they travel on to the Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Along the way, they come across some interesting characters symbolising both the new and old Frontier. They meet a rancher and join him and his family for lunch. After they pick up a hitchhiker (Luke Askew), the three head to a commune where free love, entertainment and drugs aplenty. Both these visits, showing those believing in God, but this shown in different ways. Both the traditional and a then an unconventional way. Both groups dependent on the soil for their food, showing everyone’s different but really the same. On leaving the commune, the hitchhiker presents Wyatt with some LSD, telling him to take this when the time is right and with the right people.
On arrival at one town, we find Wyatt and Billy in jail for driving a motorcycle without a permit during the town’s parade. In the cell, they meet an alcoholic lawyer George Hansen (Nicholson), who is sleeping off a hangover. He joins them on their trip, and the three head to Mardi Gras. After the pair introduce this man to how to use marijuana rather than alcohol, this leads to intense drug fueled discussions round the campfire.
Hansen passionately talking about his controversial thoughts on UFOs and the government. This scene trio stop at a town cafe gaining attention from young women and hateful comments from the older sheriff and his buddy. The trio sleeping rough have another campfire where Hansen warns his travelling companions that others both fear and hate their alternative way of life. That night, attacked by some unseen redneck perpetrators at night with Hansen murdered…
Fonda and Hopper draws you into this film with this look at the then emerging hippie subculture with a terrific soundtrack and amazing cinematography. The storyline, aiming to give the youth of their day a film they could identify with, over the more conventional films of that time. The fantastic soundtrack including Bob Dylan, The Band, Steppenwolf, The Byrds and Jimi Hendrix. Again the soundtrack echoing the mood and the flavour of this film with Born to be Wild played in the opening credits as our anti heroes ride into view. This soundtrack appropriate to the scenes with the lyrics often reflecting the on-screen happenings. Titles also including The Pusher played as the cocaine is sold in Los Angeles, and this an anti-hard drugs song establishing our leads as anti-heroes. And the song Wasn’t Born to Follow also a with a strong anti-establishment themes.
The accompanying scenery is beautifully filed showing rural America of the men’s trip between Los Angeles and New Orleans. With a few landmarks including what looked like the Rockies and Sacred Mountain at sunset. The latter will be more than familiar to those who love the Western genre. These stunning shots adding indirectly to the storyline by showing the fear of this subculture not limited to the one place. These scenes shot in both day and night. With the men sleeping outdoors for most of the film – with them refused rooms for the night – natural light was used.
The film plot at first seems confusing, with the effects of the drug use seen in Billy as he seen paranoid and non trusting, Wyatt, more deep and philosophical. And the script apparently for the most part improvised. The film reportedly having the story expanded in an uncut version of many hours. As we travel with the men on their journey, the film is becomes an interesting statement confronting the changing attitudes of the time. With a Fonda-planation of this culture as Wyatt educates George Hanson, a naive Southern boy of the lingo and marijuana. This in turn educating those watching this, for this reason the film is more of a statement of those times.
The film interestingly shot and imdb reports this as passers-by and friends recruited to do this. This giving it an uneven, choppy feel to some parts of the storyline and particularly seen in the later scene where LSD taken. This drug not actually taken by the actors during filming, However scenes with Jack Nicholson – who won an Oscar nomination – taking marijuana next the campfire were reportedly filmed with the three actors taking this substance. Sabotage News in an article about this film tells how Fonda and the other actors were stoned. With Nicholson adding that;
After the first take or two, the acting job became reversed. Instead of being straight and having to act stoned at the end, I was now stoned at the beginning and having to act straight, and then gradually letting myself return to where I was – which was very stoned.
But despite this apparent reefer madness, this film worth the ride, as you take in the a journey into the late 1960s culture of drugs, free love and communes.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Hulk Rating: /10
Bonus Video: Jack Nicholson’s UFO rant as Hansen.
Easy Rider Jack Nicholson talks about UFO’s.wmv, jsbswampfox
The Fondathon 2019, No 5
This film was added to Sat in your Lap‘s Fondathon. Other films with this cast include Jack Nicholson in The Postman Always Rings Twice, One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest, Mars Attacks, The Witches of Eastwick, Heartburn The Shining, Oscar Winner Best Actors in Superhero films, Terms of Endearment and the Jack Nicholson Blogathon. Dennis Hopper stars in EdTV. Karen Black in Burnt Offerings, The Great Gatsby and Murder She Wrote. Peter Fonda in The Cannonball Run.