Easy Rider

Dennis Hopper, USA, 1969, 95 minutes

Two counter-culture bikers, Wyatt / Captain America (Peter Fonda) and Billy / "the kid" (Dennis Hopper), travel from Los Angeles to the New Orleans Mardi Gras on their motorbikes, encountering predictable incomprehension and hostility from small-town rednecks. Arrested in one such burgh, they are rescued from jail by a sympathetic, alcoholic lawyer, George Hanson (Jack Nicolson), who decides to throw in his lot with them in their quest for the real - i.e. read mythic - America...^

Is it any good? The answer has to be a qualified yes. It lacks the intelligence and insight of Bob Rafelson's Five Easy Pieces, not coincidentally also starring Nicolson and made the following year, and somewhat overdoes the showy technique, without always convincing that this or that device was used for any reason other than "because we can" or because it "looked cool" through a marijuana haze.

Then again, this self-indulgence is also in perfect accord with one of the key themes of the film and the general times and culture within which it was made a nd to which it is indelibly, umbilically connected: the importance of freedom, of doing one's own thing, man...

Review by Michel Gentil
Written for EUFS Programme Autumn 2007

Easy Rider has dated badly though perhaps in today's drug culture it is due for reappraisal. Two hippy motor-cyclists (Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda) set out from Los Angeles looking for their own American Dream: the Mardi Gras, freak-out, and the best whorehouse in the union. Speeding along the highways they discover sunsets, grazing sheep, and rolling hills, they discover a vast, mysterious, empty continent, and they discover rednecks.

Easy Rider conveyed excellently the yearning vision of a different way of life in a country full of beauty, optimism and adventure, when nearly all Hollywood films were clinging to old American values hoping they'd survive the turbulent times. Hopper and Fonda mumble about doing their own thing in their own time, a phrase which gets intensely irritating as the film progresses, there is a crude pschedelic New Orleans sequence (filmed on 16 mm) which is a bad cinematic trip to 2001's good trip, and the ending smacks of self martyrdom. But there are two reasons why this film should be considered important. 1) before this film came out hardly anyone had heard of cocaine; after its release everyone was using it, and 2) Jack Nicholson, to whom many critics reacted as if this were his debut despite having a back catalogue of 20 (forgettable) film appearances. Jack himself has said that if Easy Rider had never come along he would probably have ended up as a studio executive.

Review by Stephen Cox
Taken from EUFS Programme 1995-96