Thursday, July 2, 2009
"Easy Rider" (opening July 3 at Landmark's Ken Cinema) is a time capsule -- it brilliantly captures a very specific moment in time and yet it still resonates powerfully today. Released in 1969 amidst headlines about war protests, love-ins, communes, drug use, hippies, the silent majority, and Nixon. It arrived just before the Kent State shootings and just after the Manson murders. It was a film that changed the landscape of American film, both in terms of the story it told and the way it was made. So I just want to highlight the fact that Landmark will be presenting a newly restored 35mm print this week at the Ken. So make an effort to see it on the big screen.
"Easy Rider" was made outside the studio system with stars Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper writing the script and improvising a lot along the way (with Terry Southern also sharing scriptwriting credit). Hopper directed and the film gained notoriety for having the trio of leads (a young Jack Nicholson was the third star) smoking pot on camera. It's a classic road pic as Captain America (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) are a pair of bikers fresh off a drug deal and ready to explore America. They encounter beauty, adventure, and prejudice. Their long hair, wicked choppers, and flag emblazoned jacket prompt a number of hostile encounters and reveal a country not very accepting of anything that's different or with the tumultuous sense of change that typified the sixties. But the film also exudes a sense of joy and freedom. Plus you can't listen to Steppenwolf's "Born to be Wild" and not think of Hopper and Fonda cruising the open road and symbolizing a generation's exuberance about life and its possibilities.
The film was notable for many things -- fragmented storyline, use of pop music on the soundtrack (a cliche now but novel then), being made outside the studio system and being a financial success, and having the stars be so hands on with the production. The performances are iconic and Nicholson turned his relatively brief role into a major star turn. Some of the dialogue sounds dated and some of the things that were so fresh then have now become cliches yet the film still packs a punch with its chilling final scenes.
Companion viewing: "Head," "The Trip," "Five Easy Pieces," "The Wild Angels"