EASY RIDER MOVIE with|
Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, & Jack Nicholson
When films emblematic of the 1960s American counter-culture are mentioned, Easy Rider comes to the fore. Almost everything about this story of a motorcycle gang that travels across a landscape of alienation is hopelessly dated, yet the film remains a lot of fun. As one of the most popular films of its times, it both depicted and promoted a youth culture that centered around illicit drugs and rock music. More than any other movie, it established the career of Jack Nicholson, who won some critics' awards and an Oscar nomination as a supporting actor, and promoted the wild image of Peter Fonda. It is also one of Dennis Hopper's earliest directorial efforts and one of his first maniacal roles, though Hopper did not immediately capitalize on his success in either capacity. The psychedelic moments are priceless, and the sound track, featuring the Byrds, Steppenwolf, and other bands of the era, is golden. Few who came of age in the turbulent 1960s did not mark Easy Rider as one of their formative cultural experiences. ~ Michael Betzold, All Movie Guide - Easy Rider (1969)
Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson
Tossing wristwatches away, two bikers hit the road to find America in Dennis Hopper's anti-establishment classic. After a major cocaine sale to an L.A. connection (Phil Spector), free-wheeling potheads Billy (Hopper) and Wyatt aka Captain America (Peter Fonda, who also produced) motor eastward to party at Mardi Gras before "retiring" to Florida with the riches concealed in Wyatt's stars-and-stripes gas tank. As they ride through the Southwest, they take a hitchhiker to a struggling hippie commune before they get thrown in a small-town jail for "parading without a permit." Their cellmate, drunken ACLU lawyer George Hanson (Jack Nicholson, replacing Rip Torn), does them a "groovy" favor by getting them out of jail and then decides to join them. Babbling about Venusians, George discovers the joys of smoking grass, but an encounter with Southern rednecks soon proves how right he is about the danger posed by Billy's and Wyatt's unfettered life in a country that has lost its ideals. With the straight world closing in, Wyatt and Billy try to revel in New Orleans with some LSD and hookers (Karen Black and Toni Basil), but the acid trip is shot through with morbidity. Once they reach Florida, Billy raves about attaining the American dream; Wyatt, however, knows the truth: "We blew it." Produced and directed by two Hollywood iconoclasts with under a half-million non-studio dollars, Easy Rider shook up the languishing movie industry when it grossed over $19 million in 1969; it captured the spirit of the times as it woke Hollywood up to the power of young audiences and socially relevant movies, along with such other landmarks of the late 1960s as Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, and 2001. Shot on location by Laszlo Kovacs, Easy Rider eschewed old-fashioned Hollywood polish for documentary-style immediacy, and it enhanced its casual feel with improvised dialogue and realistically "stoned" acting. With a soundtrack of contemporary rock songs by Jimi Hendrix, The Band, and Steppenwolf to complete the atmosphere, Easy Rider was hailed for capturing the increasingly violent Vietnam-era split between the counterculture and the repressive Establishment. Experiencing the "shock of recognition," youth audiences embraced Easy Rider's vision of both the attractions and the limits of dropping out, proving that audience's box office power and turning Nicholson into a movie star. The momentarily-hip Academy nominated Nicholson for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, and Fonda, Hopper and Terry Southern for their screenplay. Though none of its imitators would match its impact, Easy Rider remains one of the seminal works of late '60s Hollywood both for its trailblazing legacy and its sharply perceptive portrait of its chaotic times. ~ Lucia Bozzola, All Movie Guide
Easy Rider (1969) is the late 1960s "road film" tale of a search for freedom (or the illusion of freedom) in a conformist and corrupt America, in the midst of paranoia, bigotry and violence. Made in the year of the Woodstock concert, the tone of the film is remarkably downbeat and bleak, reflecting the collapse of the idealistic 60s.
The iconographic film is both memorialized as an image of the popular and historical culture of the time and a story of a contemporary journey by two self-righteous, anti-hero bikers (a 'buddy' film) eastward through the American Southwest. Their trip to New Orleans takes them through limitless, untouched landscapes, various towns, and a hippie commune, but also through areas where local residents are increasingly narrow-minded and hateful of their long-haired freedom and use of drugs. The film's title refers to their rootlessness and ride to make "easy" money; it is also slang for a pimp who makes his livelihood off the earnings of a prostitute. [The names of the two main characters, Wyatt and Billy, suggest the two memorable Western outlaws Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid - or 'Wild Bill' Hickcock. Rather than traveling westward on horses as the frontiersmen did, the two modern cowboys travel eastward from Los Angeles - the end of the traditional frontier - on Harley-Davidson choppers on an epic journey into the unknown for the 'American dream'. According to slogans on promotional posters, they were on a search:
A man went looking for America and couldn't find it anywhere.
Their costumes combine traditional patriotic symbols with emblems of loneliness, criminality and alienation - the American flag, cowboy decorations, long-hair, and drugs.]
Both Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper co-starred, Fonda produced, and Hopper directed (his first effort). The film premiered at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival and won the festival's award for the Best Film by a new director. The film received two Academy Award nominations: Best Original Screenplay (co-authored by Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Terry Southern), and Best Supporting Actor for Jack Nicholson in one of his earlier, widely-praised roles. Easy Rider was a ritualistic experience and viewed (often repeatedly) by youthful audiences in the late 1960s as a reflection of their hopes and fears.
Easy Rider surprisingly, was an extremely successful, low-budget (under $400,000), counter-cultural, independent film for the alternative youth/cult market, with sex, drugs, casual violence, a sacrificial tale, and a pulsating rock and roll soundtrack reinforcing or commenting on the film's themes. The pop cultural film was also a reflection of the "New Hollywood," the first blockbuster hit from a new wave of Hollywood directors (e.g., Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich, and Martin Scorsese) that would break with a number of Hollywood conventions - little background or historical development of characters, the lack of typical heroes, uneven pacing, jump cuts and flash-forward transitions between scenes, an improvisational style and mood of acting and dialogue, background rock 'n' roll music to complement the narrative, and the equation of motorbikes with freedom on the road rather than with delinquent behaviors.
One morning, two free-wheeling, long-haired, social misfits/dropouts/hippies ride up to La Contenta Bar in Mexico. With Jesus (Antonio Mendoza), they walk around the side of the bar through an auto-wrecking dump yard. After Jesus scoops out a small amount of white powder (cocaine) onto a mirror, they both sniff the dope. In Spanish, the thinner, calmer one chuckles: "Si pura vida (Yes, it's pure life.)" Then, he hands a packet of money to Jesus who thumbs through it and smiles. The two bikers, who have presumably orchestrated the decision to buy the cocaine in Mexico, are given cases of the powder in the drug deal. Before the film cuts to the next scene, the loud noise of a jet engine plays on the soundtrack. In the next scene of their dope deal, they are now in California where they have smuggled the drugs. The two are on an airport road next to the touch down point of jet planes at Los Angeles International Airport - the sound of approaching planes is excruciatingly loud. A Rolls Royce pulls into the frame with their Connection (Phil Spector, the famous rock and roll producer in a cameo role). While testing the white powder in the front seat of their white pickup truck, the Connection ducks every time a plane lands. In exchange for the drugs, the Bodyguard (Mac Mashourian) gives a large quantity of cash to one of the bikers in the front seat of the Rolls. The drug deal is finalized to the tune of Steppenwolf's "The Pusher," a song which is overtly against hard-drug pushers and dealing.
You know I smoked a lot of grass
Oh Lord, I popped a lot of pills
But I've never touched nothin'
That my spirit could kill
You know I've seen a lot of people walkin' round
With tombstones in their eyes
But the pusher don't care
Aw, if you live or if you die
God damn the Pusher
God damn, hey I say the Pusher
I said God damn, God damn the Pusher man.
With the money they've made from selling drugs, they have financed their trip, including the purchase of high-handled motorcycles. One of them rolls up the banknotes and stuffs them into a long plastic tube that will be inserted snake-like into the tear-drop shaped gas tank of his stars-and-stripes decorated motorcycle.
The two part-time drug dealers are:
a cool and introspective "Captain America" Wyatt (Peter Fonda) on a gleaming, silver-chromed low-riding bike with a 'stars-and-stripes' tear-drop gas tank, wearing a tight leather pants held at the waist by a round belt-buckle and a black leather jacket with an American flag emblazoned on the back; also with a 'stars-and-stripes' helmet....
and mustached and long-haired Billy (Dennis Hopper), with a tan-colored bush hat, fringed buckskin jacket, and an Indian necklace of animals' teeth....
Wyatt casts off his wristwatch to the ground, a literal and symbolic flourish that shows his new-found freedom and rejection of time constraints in modern society.
As they take to the open road on their motorcycles, cross the Colorado River and pass through unspoiled buttes and sand-colored deserts, the credits begin to scroll, accompanied by the sound of the popular song by Steppenwolf: "Born To Be Wild." It is the start of a beautiful adventure as they travel through memorable landscapes of America's natural beauty, accompanied by the pounding of rock music.
Get your motor runnin'
Head out on the highway
Lookin' for adventure
And whatever comes our way
Yeah, darlin' gonna make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of the guns at once and
Explode into space.
I like smoke and lightnin'
Heavy metal thunder
Racin' with the wind
And the feelin' that I'm under
Repeat of Chorus 1
Like a true nature's child
We were born, born to be wild
We can climb so high
I never wanna die.
Born to Be Wild
Born to Be Wild...
That evening, they are immediately rebuffed at a motel when they ask for a room - presumably because of their long hair, general unkempt and far-out appearance. The manager flashes the NO Vacancy sign at them. They camp out on the first leg of their cross-country odyssey to New Orleans, hoping to arrive there before the Mardi Gras celebration.
In the first of a number of campfire scenes, there is time for discussion and for short snatches of dialogue to illuminate the characters and themes of the film. In front of an open fire, Billy sings of his materialistic dreams:
I'm goin' down to Mardi Gras
I'm gonna get me a Mardi Gras queen...
In contrast, Wyatt smokes on a joint and seems withdrawn and remote to Billy: "You're pulling inside man. You're getting a little distance tonight." Wyatt explains that he is tired: "Yeah, well, I'm just getting my thing together." The next morning, Wyatt wakens first, and explores a deserted, broken-down shed, and a drawer on the ground with a rusted compass and a withered piece of paper inside. He also looks at a frayed booklet with pages blown by the breeze.
They stop at a horse ranch to repair Wyatt's flat tire on his bike - in symbolic, parallel juxtaposition - to a rancher who is shoeing his horse nearby. Although the loud sounding motorcycle makes the horses skittish, the rancher (Warren Finnerty), not intimidated by their odd appearance, admires Wyatt's "good-looking machine." Wyatt and Billy are invited to join the ranchhouse family (the rancher, his Mexican wife, and his many Mexican-American children) for an outdoor meal at the long dinner table. Wyatt compliments the rancher on his simple life of hard work, approves his self-sustaining piece of land ("nice spread") and then clarifies his profound thoughts on his own attraction to the man's commitment to building a life for his family - an embodiment of freedom and responsibility:
You've got a nice place. It's not every man that can live off the land, you know. You do your own thing in your own time. You should be proud.
Soon restless and impatient with the domestic scene, they are on their way again through a wooded, mountainous area, while The Byrds' "Wasn't Born to Follow" plays on the soundtrack. Wyatt picks up a Stranger/hitchhiker (Luke Askew) and they ride up to an Enco gas station [at Sacred Mountain] to fill their tanks. Billy, who is paranoid and terrified of losing their one opportunistic chance at the good life, is nervous about having the Stranger help fill the tanks:
Billy: Hey man, everything that we ever dreamed of is in that teardrop gas tank - and you got a stranger over there pourin' gasoline all over it. Man, all he's got to do is turn and look over into it, man, and he can see that...
Wyatt: He won't know what it is, man. He won't know what it is. Don't worry, Billy. Everything's all right.
After filling both tanks, Wyatt holds out a bill, looking for someone to pay, but the hitchhiker dismisses him: "That's all taken care of." Wyatt is pleased: "I like that." [There may be some pre-arranged payment scheme that the hitchhiker has with the owner of the gas station, but that is only speculation.] As they pull out onto the highway, the last shot cuts to the gas station building, where a poor Mexican girl looks out the window.
As they ride through more open desert terrain and the golden sun begins to set over Monument Valley, the Band's "The Weight" is heard on the soundtrack:
I pulled into Nazareth, was feelin' 'bout half-past dead
I just need some place, where I can lay my head
Hey Mister, can you tell me, where a man might find a bed
He just grinned and shook my hand, and 'no' was all he said
Take a load off, Fanny, take a load for free
Take a load off, Fanny, yeah, and you put the load right on me
I picked up my bag, I went lookin' for a place to hide
Then I saw Carmen and the devil, walkin' side by side
I said 'Hey, Carmen, come on let's go downtown'
She said, 'I gotta go, but my friend can stick around'...
When night falls, they must camp again, choosing an ancient Pueblo Indian rock ruins. In the film's second campfire scene, their figures are silhouetted against a beautiful Southwest sunset of many hues. They have a week left to get to New Orleans and the Mardi Gras. The evasive Stranger, whom they are taking to his commune, enigmatically reveals he was originally from the repression of the city:
It doesn't make any difference what city. All cities are alike. That's why I'm out here now...cause I'm from the city, a long way from the city - and that's where I want to be right now.
The Stranger reprimands Billy for disrespecting the Indian graves directly underneath them: "The people this place belongs to are buried right under you. You could be a trifle polite...It's a small thing to ask." When Wyatt asks: "You ever want to be somebody else?", the Stranger replies: "I'd like to try Porky Pig." Wyatt answers his own question: "I never wanted to be anybody else." The next day, the Stranger leads them to his New Mexico commune where hippies are gathered outside the buildings. The commune is the typical 60s embodiment of idealized dreams - another alternative style of living quite different from the world of the rancher. The bikers are immediately drawn into the commune without fear or prejudice - their dress and mode of speaking are at one with the counter-cultural commune. The Stranger is relieved to be home - he hugs and kisses one of the women and washes his face in a washbasin. Billy plays 'cowboys and Indians' with the hippie children, yelling: "Bang bang" as he exchanges imaginary gunfire with them. Foreshadowing future events, Billy cries out: "Pow, pow, pow. Ppttwanng. You can't hit me, I'm invisible. I'm invisible." But a big glob of mud hits him in the middle of his chest - an ominous foreshadowing.
Inside the barn/kitchen area of the commune building, Sarah (Sabrina Scharf) "raps" with the Stranger, concerned about more visitors and the burden they place on the hippie commune. The promise of Paradise in the commune is a lost dream:
We just can't take anymore, Stranger. Just too many people dropping in. Oh, I'm not talking about you and your friends, you know that. And like the week before, Susan dropped in with twelve people from Easter City. She wanted to take ten pounds of rice with her...Well naturally, we had to say no...So she gets all up tight and she breaks out some hash - and she won't give us any. Oh, and...that's not all. The next morning, they went outside to start their bus and they couldn't get it started...
A mime troupe in the commune has "gone down to the hot springs to bathe." Joanne (Sandy Wyeth), one of the younger hippie girls, reads an interpretation from the I Ching and asks Lisa (Luana Anders) for help in understanding the passage:
Starting brings misfortune. Per-serverance brings danger. Not every demand for change in the existing order should be heeded. On the other hand, repeated and well-founded complaints should not fail to a hearing.
The members of the mime troupe return and interrupt the proceedings. Their self-conscious leader theatrically takes the role of the Devil: Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye. We've come to play for our dinner. Or should I say, stay for our dinner. Or even slay for our dinner...We've come to drink your wine, taste your food and take pleasure in your women.
Sarah grabs the Devil and pulls him out of the kitchen - she gestures for the rest of the troupe to leave so she can prepare dinner [the women are delegated to do all the cooking!]. The barefooted Stranger walks across a dirt field and explains how the touchy-feely commune is life-affirming but barely surviving - commune members (would-be hippie farmers) are sowing seeds on unplowed, barren, sandy ground:
You see, what happened here is these people got here late in the summer. Too late to plant. But the weather was beautiful and it was easy livin', and everything was fine. And then came that winter. There were forty or fifty of them here living in this one-room place down here. Nothing to eat - starvin'. Out by the side of the road lookin' for dead horses...Anything they could get ahold of. Now there's - there's eighteen or twenty of them left and they're city kids. Look at them. But they're getting this crop in. They're gonna stay here until it's harvested. That's the whole thing.
Wyatt asks: "You get much rain here, man?" Billy and Wyatt predict opposite outcomes for the stoned-out labors of the workers. Wyatt admires the brave determination of the inhabitants:
Billy: This is nothing but sand, man. They ain't gonna make it, man. They ain't gonna grow anything here.
Wyatt: They're gonna make it. Dig, man. They're gonna make it. In one of the film's more memorable scenes, the blessing before the meal, the camera begins a 360 degree pan around on the varied faces of a circle of people holding hands together inside the commune. The camera returns to Jack (Robert Walker, Jr.) who leads the group in an Eastern-style religious blessing for the meal, thanking God for "a place to make a stand":
We have planted our seeds. We ask that our efforts be worthy to produce simple food for our simple taste. We ask that our efforts be rewarded. And we thank you for the food we eat from other hands - that we may share it with our fellow man and be even more generous when it is from our own. Thank you for a place to make a stand. (Amen.)
While the dance troupe, the Gorilla Theatre, entertains outdoors during the meal on a makeshift stage by singing "Does Your Hair Hang Low," Lisa, who has taken a liking to Wyatt, sits with him against a rock. She opens by asking: "Are you an Aquarius?" Wyatt shakes his head. Then she guesses right: "Pisces." Uneasy in the commune, Billy is not permitted to join a group including the Stranger and Sarah - one of the group holds a cross out in front of Billy and turns him away.
The Stranger asks: "Who sent ya?" Billy, who is distrustful and confused by the commune's values and unable to see any pay-off, turns back and walks over to Wyatt:
Whew. Man, look, I gotta get out of here, man. Now we - we got things we want to do, man, like - I just - uh - I gotta get out of here, man.
In exchange for the food they have eaten, Wyatt and Billy give Lisa and her friend Sarah a lift on their bikes "over across the canyon" to the hot springs. "I Wasn't Born to Follow" by The Byrds is again heard as the group of four walk along the bank of a stream and then shed their clothes for a skinny-dip together in a rock grotto.
Back at the commune just before they leave, the Stranger solemnly offers Wyatt a small square object, a tab of acid (LSD): "When you get to the right place, with the right people, quarter this. You know, this could be the right place. The time's running out." Wyatt wants to stay in the idyllic setting, but Billy is impatient and restless and insists that they leave. Both drifters finally decide that they need to keep moving. Although Wyatt might stay and develop a relationship with Lisa, he realizes time is running out for them and they are compelled to continue their journey: "Yeah, I'm, I'm hip about time. But I just gotta go."
Along the way, they soon find themselves in the middle of a parade composed of red-uniformed band members and majorettes marching down the main street of Las Vegas, New Mexico. A revolving red light on the top of a police car signals them to pull over. They are thrown in jail for crashing the parade and "paradin' without a permit." Billy objects vehemently as the jail cell door is closed on him:
You gotta be kidding. I mean, you know who this is, man? This is Captain America. I'm Billy. Hey, we're headliners baby. We played every fair in this part of the country. I mean, for top dollar, too!
A star-patterned symbol drawn on the cell wall reads: "I LOVE GOD" among other graffiti drawings and inscribed names. Bill calls his captors: "Weirdo hicks." A colorful white plaster plaque reads: "Jesus Christ - the same yesterday, to-day and forever."
In an adjoining cell and lying on a cot, they meet a genial, drunken ACLU Southern lawyer, George Hanson (Jack Nicholson, in the role that made him famous). He is moaning to himself about his aching head and sleeping off a hangover: "All right now, George - what are you gonna do now? I mean, you promised these people now. You promised these people - and you promised these people and - ." George's activist ambitions in the community have been derailed by his drinking problem.
Although they're "in the same cage here," George, experienced with the ACLU, the rule of law, and reconciliation between opposing groups, will function as their redemption because counter-culturalists Billy and Wyatt appear scruffy and foreign-looking to the red-neck townspeople:
Well, you boys don't look like you're from this part of the country. You're lucky I'm here to see that you don't get into anything...Well, they got this here - see - uh - scissor-happy 'Beautify America' thing goin' on around here. They're tryin' to make everybody look like Yul Brynner. They used - uh - rusty razor blades on the last two long-hairs that they brought in here and I wasn't here to protect them. You see - uh - I'm - uh - I'm a lawyer. Done a lot of work for the A. C. L. U.
George, a synthesizing combination of liberal and conservative ideals who has been able to transcend his parochial surroundings, assures them that they can get out of jail and find freedom with his political connections - if they "haven't killed anybody - at least nobody white." For $25 dollars, they are set free. After Wyatt thanks George with the words: "very groovy," George turns toward the guards and repeats the phrase: "Very groovy. Very groovy. See there. I bet nobody ever said that to you." A binge drinker, George appears to be a frequent visitor to the jail and knows all the guards very well. Regarded as a fellow good-ol-boy by the guards, he is able to keep his rowdy behavior a secret from his disappointed father (he is the son of a wealthy, powerful, influential figure).
Outside while looking at their "super-machines," George toasts the day with a bottle of Jim Beam, accompanied by his elbow flapping on his side like a chicken:
Here's to the first of the day, fellas. To ol' D. H. Lawrence. Nik-nik-nik-f-f-f-Indians!
George is also interested in saving himself by escaping from the small town and joining them on their two to three day ride to New Orleans: "I must've started off to Mardi Gras six or seven times. Never got further than the state line." He shows them a business card from his wallet that the Governor of Louisiana once gave him that eventually directs them to hedonistic, self-interested pleasures at a legendary whore house:
'Madame Tinkertoy's House of Blue Lights. Corner of Bourbon and Toulouse, New Orleans, Louisiana.' Now this is supposed to be the finest whorehouse in the South. These ain't no pork chops. These are U. S. Prime.
George presents the most unforgettable image of the film after he tells them he has "a helmet." He is grinning from ear to ear, wearing a gold football helmet with a blue center stripe, and riding on the back of Wyatt's motorcycle, as "If You Want to Be A Bird" (by The Holy Modal Rounders) plays on the soundtrack. George sits up and flaps his arms.
Around the campfire that night, [the third campfire scene in the film and the first of two campfire scenes with George], George - wearing a 'M' letter sweater - takes another drink and again flaps his arms: "Nik, nik, nik, nik - Fire!" They turn George on to marijuana ("grass") and he is soon encouraged to inhale a joint for the first time in his life after sniffing at it and expressing his doubts about lighting it up:
You- you mean marijuana. Lord have mercy, is that what that is? Well, let me see that. Mmmmm-mmm. Mmmm....I-I-I couldn't do that. I mean, I've got enough problems with the - with the booze and all. I mean, uh, I - I can't afford to get hooked...it-it-it leads to harder stuff. Thinking it has "a real nice, uh, taste to it," George gets high. In a hilarious conversation, his marijuana smoking prompts him to espouse his belief in aliens and UFOs:
That was a UFO, beamin' back at ya. Me and Eric Heisman was down in Mexico two weeks ago - we seen forty of 'em flying in formation. They-they-they've got bases all over the world now, you know. They've been coming here ever since nineteen forty-six - when the scientists first started bouncin' radar beams off of the moon. And they have been livin' and workin' among us in vast quantities ever since. The government knows all about 'em.
George describes more of his "crackpot idea" to Billy about how aliens from the planet Venus (from a "more highly evolved" society without war, money, or political leaders) have already landed on Earth. They don't reveal themselves as living and working people because they are indistinguishable from normal human beings. Their mission is to help "people in all walks of life" to evolve into a higher destiny. In his theory, the US government leaders have repressed information about the extraterrestrials who represent the status quo:
Well, they are people, just like us - from within our own solar system. Except that their society is more highly evolved. I mean, they don't have no wars, they got no monetary system, they don't have any leaders, because, I mean, each man is a leader. I mean, each man - because of their technology, they are able to feed, clothe, house, and transport themselves equally - and with no effort...Why don't they reveal themselves to us is because if they did it would cause a general panic. Now, I mean, we still have leaders upon whom we rely for the release of this information.
These leaders have decided to repress this information because of the tremendous shock that it would cause to our antiquated systems. Now, the result of this has been that the Venutians have contacted people in all walks of life - all walks of life. (He laughs) Yes. It-it-it would be a devastatin' blow to our antiquated systems - so now the Venutians are meeting with people in all walks of life - in an advisory capacity. For once man will have a god-like control over his own destiny. He will have a chance to transcend and to evolve with some equality for all.
They decide to save the rest of the joint for the next morning, as Wyatt advises: "It gives you a whole new way of looking at the day."
The next morning, they continue on their trip and wind up entering a rural cafe/diner in a small Southern town, as three songs play on the soundtrack:
Don't Bogart Me (by the Fraternity of Man)
If Six Was Nine (by the Jimi Hendrix Experience)
Let's Turkey Trot (by Little Eva) - the selection on the jukebox in the diner
Local rednecks at one of the cafe's booths look up at the non-conformist intruders, as the Deputy Sheriff (Arnold Hess, Jr.) rhetorically asks: "What the hell is this? Troublemakers?" His construction-site booth mate with a yellow cap, Cat Man (Hayward Robillard) adds: "You name it - I'll throw rocks at it, Sheriff." Teenage girls at the next booth are excited by the strangers in a different way, particularly for George: "Oh, I like the one in the red shirt with the suspenders" and Wyatt: "Mmmm-mmm, the white shirt for me" and "look at the one with the black pants on." In response to the attention, George and Billy make funny noises with their tongues and say: "Poontang!"
The dialogue between the Sheriff and Cat Man despises and ridicules the bikers' long hair with crude insults:
Cat Man: Check that joker with the long hair. Deputy: I checked him already. Looks like we might have to bring him up to the Hilton before it's all over with.
Cat Man: Ha! I think she's cute.
Deputy: Isn't she, though. I guess we'd put him in the women's cell, don't you reckon? Cat Man: Oh, I think we ought to put 'em in a cage and charge a little admission to see 'em.
Overhearing their ill-natured comments, George gracefully sighs at the two good ol' boys: "Those are what is known as 'country witticisms.' One of the girls boldly suggests asking the bikers to take them for a ride and then is dared to "go ahead." Other customers are also threatened and make loud asides about their appearance, insulting them as "weirdo degenerates" - they are fearful of something they don't understand:
Customer 1: You know, I thought at first that bunch over there, their mothers had maybe been frightened by a bunch of gorillas, but now I think they were caught.
Customer 2: I know one of them's Alley-oop - I think. From the beads on him.
Customer 4: Well, one of them darned sure is not Oola.
Customer 1: Look like a bunch of refugees from a gorilla love-in.
Customer 2: A gorilla couldn't love that.
Customer 1: Nor could a mother.
Customer 3: I'd love to mate him up with one of those black wenches out there.
Customer 4: Oh, now I don't know about that.
Customer 3: Well, that's about as low as they come. I'll tell ya...Man, they're green.
Customer 4: No, they're not green, they're white.
Customer 3: White? Huh!
Customer 4: Uh-huh.
Customer 3: Man, you're color blind. I just gotta say that...
Customer 1: I don't know. I thought most jails were built for humanity, and that won't quite qualify.
Customer 2: I wonder where they got those wigs from.
Customer 1: They probably grew 'em. It looks like they're standin' in fertilizer. Nothin' else would grow on 'em...
Customer 3: I saw two of them one time. They were just kissin' away. Two males. Just think of it. Feeling threatened by the "Yankee queers" and their alternative lifestyle, the narrow-minded Deputy and Cat Man suggest eliminating them:
Deputy: What'cha think we ought to do with 'em?
Cat Man: I don't damn know, but I don't think they'll make the parish line.
George quickly loses his hungry appetite and Wyatt rises to "split" - the waitress has refused to serve them anyway. The teenage girls follow them outside and gather around to ask for a ride, but Billy changes his mind when he notices the Deputy peering out the cafe window at them - "the Man is at the window."
At their next campsite around a campfire (because hotels and motels won't accept them), the film's fourth campfire scene, George (in a conversation with Billy) expresses the prophetic theme of the film - their threat to the Establishment and to Americans who are hypocritical about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
In his famous "this used to be a helluva good country" speech, George articulates the real reason for the hostility and resentment that they generate. Billy's notion is that their non-conformist mode of dress and long hair spark intolerance. But George reasons that they represent something much deeper and more fearful - freedom and experimentation in a materialistic, capitalistic society:
George: You know, this used to be a helluva good country. I can't understand what's gone wrong with it.
Billy: Huh. Man, everybody got chicken, that's what happened, man. Hey, we can't even get into like, uh, second-rate hotel, I mean, a second-rate motel. You dig? They think we're gonna cut their throat or something, man. They're scared, man.
George: Oh, 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 needs a haircut.
George: Oh no. What you represent to them is freedom.
Billy: What the hell's wrong with freedom, man? That's what it's all about.
George: Oh yeah, that's right, that's what 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. '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.
Billy: Mmmm, well, that don't make 'em runnin' scared.
George: No, it makes 'em dangerous.
George ends his confident words of wisdom with another flap of the arm and "nik, nik, nik, nik, nik, nik, nik - Swamp." After they settle down in their sleeping bags, unidentified men ambush and attack them and beat them with baseball bats in the dark. Billy and Wyatt are both bloodied and bruised, but George has been clubbed to death. [Ironically, George as a lawyer from a rich family shared more in common with his local assassins than either Billy or Wyatt, but he is the one who is murdered.] Billy goes through George's wallet, wondering what to do "with his stuff." They find some money, his driver's license, and his card to a New Orleans brothel: "He ain't gonna be usin' that." As homage to their departed friend/companion, they immediately travel on.
The next scene abruptly finds them in a New Orleans restaurant, where they are served a fancy meal with wine (as the soundtrack plays "Kyrie Eleison" by The Electric Prunes). Thinking they'll "go there for one drink" because George "would have wanted us to," Billy and Wyatt make their way to the House of Blue Lights, the brothel/whorehouse - a place of institutionalized love that George dreamed of visiting. The interior of the whorehouse is decorated with sexual and religious paintings and with an ornate ceiling and chandelier. The salon has a few prostitutes seated on couchs, a pimp, a Madame, and a golden-haired woman who dances on a table. After snuggling and being entertained, Billy gets smashed and enjoys spending their drug money. Remote and out of touch, Wyatt stares off into space postulating: "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him." Wyatt looks up to an inscription on the wall which reads: "Death only closes a man's reputation and determines it as good or bad."
There is a momentary, quick flash forward - an aerial shot of a fire burning alongside a highway - it is the final image of the film - Wyatt's motorcycle burns beside the road.
The Madame brings in two hookers, Mary (Toni Basil), a dark-haired woman who accompanies Wyatt, and Karen (Karen Black in her film debut) the "tall one" who joins Billy. With the two prostitutes, they wander through the crowded Mardi Gras celebration in the streets, where there are large floats and revellers are singing and parading in costumes. ("When the Saints Go Marching In" plays in the background.) As the group moves down the street, Wyatt comes upon a dead dog lying at the curb - they stoop down to it.
Then, the bonded quartet enter a cemetery, a place of institutionalized death, where they all split the packet of the hallucinogenic drug LSD, given them earlier by the Stranger. Although the drug experience promises peace and enlightenment, the acid trip is a sacrament of confusion and disillusion.
A girl's voice repeatedly recites religious creeds during the sequence:
I believe in God, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth...Was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell - the third day, he arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, to sitteth at the right hand of God - the Father Almighty. Creator of heaven and earth. I believe in God, Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ - his only son, Our Lord. Received Holy Ghost. Born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried....Blessed art Thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now...
Their drug trip/experience is a disjointed, distorted, purposely chaotic sequence of images, painful memories and sounds. Wyatt overlaps the creed with his own crude ramblings and eventually ends up sobbing: "Oh Mother why didn't you tell me? Why didn't anybody tell me anything?...What are you doing to me now?...Shut up!...How could you make me hate you so?...Oh God, I hate you so much." Both women take off their clothes and pose nude in the cemetery while Wyatt embraces one of the marble statues. They frolic throughout the crypts, but ultimately they all share a sour, bad trip together. Both Mary and Karen scream and sob: "I'm going to die. I'm dead...Do you understand?...Oh dear God, please let it be. Please help me conceive a child...I'm right out here out of my head...Please God, let me out of here. I want to get out of here...You know what I mean...You wanted me...You wanted me ugly didn't you? I know you johns - I know you johns." Toward the end of their restless, nomadic odyssey, they leave New Orleans and ride on eastward to Florida, accompanied by "Flash, Bam, Pow" by The Electric Flag.
At another campfire, the fifth and final campire scene [in the last scene before the film's climax], Wyatt and Billy exchange deep thoughts about the freedom they have found on their journey pursuing the big drug score - "the big money." Their rootless, drifting pursuit of the American dream and the promise of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll has been questionably successful, dissatisfying, transitory and elusive. Billy is unaware of the cost of their trip to his own soul.
Wyatt believes there may have been another less destructive, less diversionary, more spiritually fulfilling way to search for their freedom rather than selling hard drugs, taking to the road and being sidetracked, and wasting their lives:
Billy (gleefully greedy): We've done it. We've done it. We're rich. Wyatt. (Laughs) Yeah, man. (Laughs) Yeah. Clearly, we did it, man we did it. We did it. Huh. We're rich, man. We're retired in Florida, now, mister. (Chuckles) Whew.
Wyatt (introspectively): You know, Billy. We blew it.
Billy: What? Huh? Wha-wha-wha- That's what it's all about, man. I mean, like you know - I mean, you go for the big money, man, and then you're free. You dig? (Laughs)
Wyatt: We blew it. Good night, man.
On the road again the next morning to the sound of "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" (Bob Dylan's tune sung by Roger McGuinn of the Byrds), they travel through more landscapes of America, scenes which reflect the regional diversity of the country and creeping industrial pollution.
The ending of the film is remarkably bleak, cynical and fatalistic. On one of the last stretches of roadside where American industry has not yet sprawled, two armed rednecks in a small pickup truck think they'll have some fun with the two bikers:
Driver: Hey, Roy, look at them ginks!
Roy: Pull alongside, we'll scare the hell out of 'em.
Roy reaches back and takes down his mounted shotgun from the back of the cab and aims it out the window at Billy:
Want me to blow your brains out? (Billy obscenely gestures with his 'finger') Why don't you get a haircut?
A sudden shot-gun blasts Billy in the stomach and he is mortally wounded. His bike rolls and skids down the road. Wyatt stops and turns back toward Billy to help him:
Billy: Oh my God! (He gags)
Wyatt: Oh my God! I'm going for help Billy.
Billy: I got 'em. I'm gonna get 'em. (He sobs and moans)...Man, I-I'm gonna get 'em. Where are they now?
Middle America's hatred for the long-haired cyclists is shown in the film's famous ending. When Wyatt speeds down the road to seek help for his dying friend, the rednecks turn around and drive toward him - gunfire again blasts through the window and Wyatt's bike flies through the air. [Significantly, Wyatt's dead body doesn't appear in the final scene.] The closing image (of the earlier flash-forward) is an aerial shot floating upwards above his motorcycle which is burning in flames by the side of the road. Death seems to be the only freedom or means to escape from the system in America where alternative lifestyles and idealism are despised as too challenging or free. The romance of the American highway is turned menacing and deadly.
The words of Ballad of Easy Rider (by Roger McGuinn of The Byrds) are heard under the rolling credits. The uneasy aerial camera shot pulls back on the winding river alongside the highway. The river - which extends to the hazy horizon - is the final image of the film before a fade-out to black. The ballad is about a man who only wanted to be free like the flowing river amidst America's natural landscape:
The river flows, it flows to the sea
Wherever that river goes, that's where I want to be
Flow river flow, let your waters wash down
Take me from this road to some other town
All I wanted was to be free
And that's the way it turned out to be...
Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda go back to a time when a kilo of good pot was a budgeted movie expense.
By Max Garrone Apr. 16, 2001
Directed by Dennis Hopper
Starring Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, Phil Spector Columbia/Tristar anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio)
Extras: Commentary by Dennis Hopper, making-of documentary "Shaking the Cage"
When Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda set out to make a western about hippies trekking across America on their motorcycles, they had no idea that their creation would become the signature film of the '60s. The DVD release of "Easy Rider" points out just how influential the movie was at the time, and the extras explore the outlaw magic that made it work.
Dennis Hopper plays Billy and Peter Fonda takes on the role of Wyatt, aka Captain America, for the allegorical voyage. Billy's hot to get to New Orleans in time for Mardi Gras, but Wyatt runs at a slower, more contemplative pace; he's often seen finishing a joint and staring into the campfire.
Several of the conversations, if not the entire movie, are about freedom. As a director, Hopper places the nonconformist main characters in an America populated by accepting cowboys and hippies.
In the South, however, the bikers find xenophobic racists who chase down longhairs with shotguns.
The film itself is somber in theme, but watching it today is still energizing: The filmmaking is raw and exciting -- the movie is often credited with driving the renaissance of American film in the '70s -- and the cast makes up a who's who of the '60s and '70s.
The fun part of watching the DVD after all this time is that you finally get to find out which parts of the film were driven by the script and acting, and which parts were real, or the result of happy accidents on location. According to the DVD extras, most of the film was really done on the spot, and most of the scenes in the movie played out as they happened to the actors themselves. This is confirmed in the extensive documentary "Shaking the Cage," which features most of the major players. Fonda is by far the most animated and charismatic, especially when talking about the smallest details. Snorting "powdered sugar really hurts," he points out.
Apparently that dummy cocaine was the only drug or drug use faked in the movie. The actors and crew interviewed here say that, like Wyatt and Billy, they also liked to have a joint in the morning and the evening. One producer notes that the crew received a kilo of marijuana for personal use, and all interviewees confirm that any time you see someone smoking a joint on-screen, it was loaded with the kind bud. There's so much drug talk, in fact, that you start to wonder how a movie could get made by such a bunch of stoners. "You can't do this with hard drugs, but you can do it with grass," we're assured.
Most of the comments add up to something like "We were so loaded that we didn't know where we were." Then again, Fonda or another member of the crew ends up surprising you with a sober story about how they found local nonactors to play themselves as the Southern racists at the end. And Hopper even fesses up to a secret motivational device: "I told them that we'd raped and murdered a girl outside of town so it was OK to say whatever they wanted." Yet except for a few prize anecdotes, Hopper comes across as a distant intellectual in most of the interviews and during the full-length director's commentary. Everyone else still burns with the enthusiasm.
June 15, 2001 interview with Peter Fonda: The Original Easy Rider
For some, this venerable brand never went away... . .
CIO: How did you get involved with the new Indian Motorcycle group?
Peter Fonda: I got to know Ray and Rich [Sotelo] and the team at CMC when they built Limited Edition 30th Anniversary [Easy Rider] Captain America cycles in 1999. Now they've given me a bike to ride and tinker with and I get an appearance fee. I get the bike for a couple of years and I give it back and they auction it off for some charity.
I don't feel like I owe some allegiance to Harley — I think probably Harley owes some allegiance to me (chuckle). I know the guys over there and like them too. They make a good motorcycle. So does Ducatti. It's not like one is better than the other; they each have their own values for me.
I like Harley-Davidson. In fact, I think they've improved that bike tremendously. When I did "Easy Rider," we called 'em "Hardleys"’ 'cause they hardly ever started and they would just leak all over the damn place. Now with the new evolution engines, they don't leak, they don't drop oil.
How many motorcycles do you have?
Two Indians—one old and one new—a Harley Davidson, a "Fonda" custom bike, an old BMW, and a Ducatti Monster. I enjoy all kinds of motorcycles, have all my life.
How does the new Indian chief compare to the vintage one you own?
Well, it's harder to work on the engine [of the new one]. With the older ones you can open it up, get in and adjust the valves and in 15 minutes you've got everything adjusted. If you like to tinker with old engines that's kinda fun.
Now, they're like the Harley engine. They're very dependable. And their gear box is great. It's easy to find neutral, you don't have to screw around with it. On the Harley's, you have to break it in a bit and then you get to where it's easy to find neutral, which is an essential part that a lot of people don't understand in motorcycling, knowing how to hit neutral. I'm a purist. I don't want to turn it off by that little off/on, run/start button.
How's the ride on the new Indian? Do you ever go out on one and just let it rip?
Oh, of course! Absolutely! It's smooth riding. The center of gravity is so low that you can get a real smooth ride. And you know, with the right bars, you're just sitting back in there; it's just a real, easy, smooth ride.
With the Chiefs, you have to be careful going on the corners because it has such a low center of gravity, which makes it easier to ride, but around corners—you have the footboards—you tend to drag them and that's something that most cyclists don't want to do. So you tend to make a wider corner. You don't cut it quite as sharp as you would with other motorcycles.
It's also nice when you pull up to a stop sign and some gal or guy—not just biker-types, but straight middle-class and older ladies — says, "That is the most beautiful motorcycle I've ever seen!"
Do you go to Sturgis [South Dakota] for the big summer motorcycle rally?
Yeah, if I'm not working, it's a great thing. Guys and gals come up here to the [Montana] ranch and we all cruise. It's a beautiful 500-mile ride and we love it and people are always so friendly and nice to me there. Other bikers say, "Hey! All right! Good to see ya!" I feel like, "Okay, I'm all right here, nothing to worry about. I'm with a bunch of friends."
What do you ride on a 500-mile trek like that?
I'll ride my [Harley] Road King or maybe the Indian because we've now gotten to where it doesn't scrape any plates and I can putt around up there.
What other rides do you take?
Very often I'll go from here, all alone, down to Four Corners for their rally on Labor Day. And then come back up. I love it being out there alone. I don't need to have a buddy riding next to me. It's not bad when I have one, but I don't need it. I'm looking around... there are no fences.
Think about it, the highway has no fences; we're just out there running. It truly is a wonderful feeling for me. But ever since I hit the deer in 1993 I will not ride at dusk or later.
I was on a straight road, going 55 [mph] and a doe jumped out right in front of me. I've learned that you never try to turn, never try to turn to miss. Just keep going, brake and brace for it. BAM! It was so fast, there wasn't a thing I could do but hit it. I was just in this huge cloud of fur and dust. My headlight was broken, I was worried about the metal post on the side of the road …and I thought, "Time to put this thing down." So I did. I bent up the left-front roll bar, the crash bar, but that's what it was supposed to do. Didn't even hurt the bike, just a little dent in the tank. I had to replace the crash bars but the Fat Boy has that solid wheel and that big front end I was able to hit that impact and ride through it.
I'm a very fortunate person to be able to be alive and tell you the story. But I just love to ride. If I finish my chores around here and I want to go off on a ride, I just jump on one of the bikes and just go for a spin, and around here a spin can take you over 65-70 miles easily. And back before dusk.
When you're riding around a city like Los Angeles do a lot of people recognize you as Easy Rider?
Not always. I'm just a dude in leather and a helmet until they see my smile. I mean I can wear dark glasses and they get it before they get the smile and then it's, "Oh! You're Bridget Fonda's father!" or "Hey, Easy Rider!" But usually they see the bike first.
It's funny — people call "Easy Rider" a biker movie. It wasn't a biker movie at all — it was a Western! I wore spurs. Those were just different types of horses.
So do you ride a motorcycle when you really need to get somewhere?
Having to get somewhere on a motorcycle is the wrong way to go riding. You know, ‘cause it's the ride that's the thing. Having to get someplace puts a limit of time on you. You have to push further than you want because you'd got to be somewhere. I don't like that thing on me when I ride. I want to be able to cruise. I want to think about things. I can stop when I want and start when I want to start. That's the biker thing. —S. Deck
Peter Fonda Age: 64 Born: February 23, 1939 New York, New York
Did You Know?
Peter is married to Portia Rebecca Crockett. They were married in 1972.
Peter and his first wife had two children, Bridget and Justin.
Peter accidentally shot himself in the stomach when he was 10 years old.
John Lennon wrote the song "She Said She Said" about Peter after an acid trip where Peter kept telling him "I know what it's like to be dead, man." Peter was talking about when he shot himself.
His heart stopped three times and he died on the operating table.
He attended University of Omaha.
QUOTE on trying to live up the expectations of being Henry Ford's son and who he is now: ''I tried to be that; I really did. The problem was, I didn't know who Henry Fonda was. So I went from being Henry's son to Jane's brother to Captain America. Then, for the past few years, I've been Bridget's father,'' he says, referring to his daughter, a popular actress who already has almost as many film credits as her father. ''Which I've loved, I admit. But who knows?
Peter's favorite directors are Victor Nunez and Stephen Soderbergh.
If anyone ever wanted to do a re-make of Easy Rider, Peter says he wouldn't mind but "it would be foolish to try."
Easy Rider (1969)
Peter's claim to fame was his hippy, wild card role in Easy Rider, which he wrote. It was also nominated for an Academy Award for best writing.
The Trip (1967)
His movie The Trip was inspired by his experimental years and tripping with John Lennon and others.
Made In The USA (2003)
South Of Heaven, West Of Hell (2001)
Thomas And The Magic Railroad (2000)
The Passion Of Ayn Rand (1999)
The Limey (1999)
The Tempest (1998)
Ulee's Gold (1997)
John Carpenter's Escape From L.A (1996)
Grace Of My Heart (1996)
Love And A .45 (1994)
Molly & Gina (1994)
South Beach (1993)
Fatal Mission (1990)
Hawken's Breed (1989)
The Rose Garden (1989)
Mercenary Fighters (1988)
Certain Fury (1985)
A Reason To Live (1985)
Dance Of The Dwarfs (1983)
Death Bite (1982)
The Cannonball Run (1981)
The Hostage Tower (1980)
Wanda Nevada (1979)
Outlaw Blues (1977)
Fighting Mad (1976)
Diamond Mercenaries (1975)
92 In The Shade (1975)
Killer Force (1975)
Race With The Devil (1975)
Open Season (1974)
Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974)
Two People (1973)
The Last Movie (1971)
The Hired Hand (1971)
Easy Rider (1969)
Spirits Of The Dead (1968)
The Trip (1967)
The Wild Angels (1966)
The Young Lovers (1964)
Tammy And The Doctor (1963)
Wanda Nevada (1979)
The Hired Hand (1971)
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