For whatever reason, I’ve avoided watching Easy Rider for several years now. I think I thought it would be one long acid trip and I’m not a big fan of those type movies. I read Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (which is on the Book list) and it gave a lot of the “behind-the-scenes” information, about how Dennis Hopper was pretty much stoned and high the entire time during filming, going on crazy tirades, screaming at production crew, and how Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper went down to New Orleans to shoot Mardi Gras, blowing money and only getting a few minutes worth of footage over a couple of weeks.
I thought I basically knew the plot: two guys score cocaine down in Mexico, make a deal in Los Angeles, and then take off for a cross-country motorcycle ride down to New Orleans for Mardi Gras with their new-found wealth. And that’s true enough. But it’s SO much more than just a road movie.
Billy (Dennis Hopper) and Wyatt aka Captain America (Peter Fonda) don’t have much of a back story and by their lack of detail, they could be you or me or anyone. They’re seeking freedom, now that they are financially secure. But they quickly realize the freedom they seek isn’t available in America. Along the way they pick up lawyer George Hanson (Jack Nicholson in a very early role); George is an alcoholic, straight-laced and has never been past the state line, but he craves adventure and freedom just like Billy and Wyatt and joins them on their trip to Mardi Gras. There is this great conversation George and Billy have that pretty much sums up the movie:
George Hanson: You know, this used to be a helluva good country. I can’t understand what’s gone wrong with it.
Billy: Man, everybody got chicken, that’s what happened. Hey, we can’t even get into like, a second-rate hotel, I mean, a second-rate motel, you dig? They think we’re gonna cut their throat or somethin’. They’re scared, man.
George Hanson: They’re not scared of you. They’re scared of what you represent to ‘em.
Billy: Hey, man. All we represent to them, man, is somebody who needs a haircut.
George Hanson: Oh, no. What you represent to them is freedom.
Billy: What the hell is wrong with freedom? That’s what it’s all about.
George Hanson: 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.
I encourage you to watch this film if you’ve not yet done so. Sure, the actual technical filming and editing is a little…off. They try for some “creative” editing, especially in the beginning, that makes you want to punch the screen (although some of the flash cut editing does work to tell the story and some of the cross-country footage is gorgeous). And I’m amazed that I’ve made it this far in life without being told the ending; for the most part, by the time I get to a classic movie, I already know everything about it and all the surprises are ruined.
After I watched the film, it really stuck with me for several days and I couldn’t talk about it to anyone because you can’t necessarily bring up a 40-year-old film in conversation, when everyone else is talking about Black Swan.
Up next is Mulholland Dr. Not on the AFI list, but definitely a film that’s on a lot of lists.
So anyone else seen Easy Rider? Like it, don’t like it? Got another classic movie that you resisted watching and then fell in love with it?