Movie Name: Easy Rider
Studio: Raybert Productions
Release Date(s): July 14, 1969
MPAA Rating: R
Wyatt aka Captain America (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) have just made the biggest score of their lives. Set with money, Wyatt and Billy set out across the southern United States to get to Mardi Gras and plan their future. Facing both love and hate, Wyatt and Billy see different sides of America. Be it a commune in the mountains or a small Louisiana town that will not accept them, Wyatt and Billy are out to claim their piece of America before it claims them!
Directed by Dennis Hopper and written by Fonda and Hopper, Easy Rider was a dramatic road picture. The film was received positively and became a sign of the period for fans and scholars due to its style and messages. The movie was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Jack Nicholson) and Best Original Screenplay. In 1998, Easy was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. The film received a Criterion edition as part of America Lost and Found: The BBS Story (Criterion #545).
I can’t say I loved Easy Rider the first time I saw it, but I did respect it. It is stylish and really has a message it is trying to get across (though somewhat confusing). Watching it multiple times, the movie grows on you, and you can see why the film was a flashpoint for America…Easy Rider gets the change that was occurring.
The movie could easily be dismissed as a hippie movie that encourages people to drop-out. The only people that seem happy in the whole movie are the commune that is visited by Wyatt and Billy. Everyone else is angry and fearful…which sadly has a similar feel to America right now. Strange doesn’t mean bad, but it often means bad in this film…outsiders beware! The movie redeems a bit of this message in the “we blew it” line. It also gives the movie depth. Is he talking about Billy and himself or America? I always assumed that it was the fact that they did drop out was the screw-up and that America itself was blowing it along the same lines by not dealing with things.
The cast is great. Fonda’s cool and collected character is a great contrast to Hopper’s more wild Billy. The film drops in with other actors who cameo like Phil Spector as the drug tester, Jack Nicholson as the tag-along tasting America for the first time, and Toni Basil and Karen Black as the girls they pick up at the House of Blue Lights in New Orleans. Fonda’s daughter Bridget Fonda actually has a cameo at the commune as one of the children.
The movie’s look is classic. Though they admit to choosing the wrong type of motorcycle for a cross country picture, the imagery of Fonda and Hopper cutting across the country is still electric. The movie is also credited as one of the first films to really incorporate a popular soundtrack with the film (The Graduate being another early user of this). It feels like a real throwback to a time that many long for (despite the troubles faced by the characters).
Easy Rider is one of those “must see” movies. It is important not only as a sign of the times in which it was made, but it had lasting influence on the movies that came after it. It is frequently referenced, and it is often parodied or paid homage. It is a classic. There is technically a sequel to Easy Rider but simply because the naming rights became available. The poorly received Easy Rider: The Ride Back was released in 2012.