FAST RIDE THROUGH OUR YOUTH

Easy Rider Poster
Internet Movie Poster Awards

Easy Rider shook up the languishing movie industry when it grossed over 19 million dollars 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 ’60s 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)
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-day cowboys travel eastward from Los Angeles – the end of the traditional frontier – on decorated Harley-Davidson choppers on an epic journey into the unknown for the ‘American dream’.
Easy Rider surprisingly, was an extremely successful, low-budget (under $400,000), counter-cultural, independent film for the alternative youth/cult market – one of the first of its kind that was an enormous financial success. Its story contained sex, drugs, casual violence, a sacrificial tale (with a shocking, unhappy ending), and a pulsating rock and roll soundtrack reinforcing or commenting on the film’s themes.
(American Movie Classics Company LLC)
One morning, two free-wheeling, long-haired, social misfits/dropouts/hippies ride up to La Contenta Bar, south of the border 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 for sale to a dealer. 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.
(American Movie Classics Company LLC)
The drug deal was 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.
(American Movie Classics Company LLC)

With the stash of 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.
• Mustached and shaggy, long-haired Billy the Kid (Dennis Hopper), with a tan-colored bush hat, fringed buckskin jacket, shades, and an Indian necklace of animals’ teeth.
(American Movie Classics Company LLC)

1969 Harley-Davidson Easy Rider chopper (1993 replica)
The Art of the Motorcycle – Memphis
Bore x stroke 87.1 x 100.6 mm. 1200 cc.
Power: 61 hp @ 6,000 rpm, Top speed: 100 mph (161 kph)
The Otis Chandler Vintage Museum of Transportation and Wildlife
Oxnard, California.
Author Daniel Hartwig from New Haven, CT, USA
From commons.wikimedia.org

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.
(American Movie Classics Company LLC)
Easy Rider explores the societal landscape, issues, and tensions in the United States during the 1960s, such as the rise and fall of the hippie movement, drug use, and communal lifestyle. Easy Rider is legendary for its use of real drugs in its portrayal of marijuana and other substances.
During their trip, Wyatt and Billy met and have a meal with a rancher, whom Wyatt complimented for his ability to provide for his large family. Later, the duo picked up a hitch-hiker (Luke Askew) and agreed to take him to his commune, where they stayed for a day. Life in the commune appeared to be hard, with hippies from the city finding it difficult to grow their own crops. (One of the children seen in the commune was played by Fonda’s four-year-old daughter Bridget).
While jokingly riding along with a parade in a small town, the pair were arrested by the local authorities for “parading without a permit.” In jail, they befriended ACLU lawyer and local drunk George Hanson (Jack Nicholson). George helped them get out of jail, and decided to travel with Wyatt and Billy to New Orleans. As they camp that night, Wyatt and Billy introduced George to marijuana. As an alcoholic and a “square,” George was reluctant to try the marijuana (“It leads to harder stuff”), but he eventually relented.
(From Wikipedia)
While attempting to eat in a small rural Louisiana restaurant, the trio’s appearance attracted the attention of the locals. The girls in the restaurant wanted to meet the men and ride with them, but the local men and police officer make mocking, racist, and homophobic remarks. One of the men menacingly stated, “I don’t believe they’ll make the parish line.” Wyatt, Billy, and George left without eating and made camp outside of town. The events of the day caused George to comment: “This used to be a hell of a good country. I can’t understand what’s gone wrong with it.” He observed that Americans talk a lot about the value of freedom, but are actually afraid of anyone who truly exhibits it.
In the middle of the night, the local men returned and brutally beat the trio while they were sleeping. Wyatt and Billy suffer minor injuries, but George is killed by a machete strike to the neck. Wyatt and Billy wrapped George up in his sleeping bag, gather his belongings, and vow to return the items to his parents.
They continued riding to New Orleans and found the brothel George had intended to visit. Taking prostitutes Karen (Karen Black) and Mary (Toni Basil) with them, Wyatt and Billy decided to go outside and wandered the parade-filled street of the Mardi Gras celebration. They ended up in a cemetery, where all four ingest LSD. They experienced a psychedelic bad trip, represented through quick edits, sound effects, and over-exposed film.
(From Wikipedia)
Making camp afterward, Wyatt declared: “You know Billy, we blew it.” Wyatt realized that their search for freedom, while financially successful, was a spiritual failure. The next morning, the two were continuing their trip to Florida (where they hope to retire wealthy) when two rednecks in a pickup truck spotted them and decided to “scare the hell out of them” with their shotgun. As they pulled alongside Billy and insulted him, Billy sticked his middle finger up at them dismissively. In response, one of the men fired the shotgun at Billy and seriously wounded him.
(From Wikipedia)
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…
(American Movie Classics Company LLC)

Easy Rider hit theaters with a memorable tag line: “A man went looking for America. And couldn’t find it anywhere.” Star, producer, and co-writer Peter Fonda hated that line, and rightly so. It’s really the story of two men—Wyatt and Billy, played by Fonda and co-writer and director Dennis Hopper—who went looking for America and found it everywhere. They just didn’t find a place for themselves.
(Keith Phipps at slate.com)

 Photos signed by Hopper, Fonda and Nicholson
Images from nwlimited.wordpress.com

Hopper’s film was an appropriate fast ride through our youth. We all wanted to become outlaws, till we saw the final scene – Jeffrey Jolson at Hollywood Today.

Crew:
Director:Dennis Hopper
Author:Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, Terry Southern
Producer:Peter Fonda
Director of Photography:László Kovács
Editor:Donn Cambern

Cast:
Peter Fonda … Wyatt
Dennis Hopper … Billy
Antonio Mendoza … Jesus
Phil Spector … Connection
Mac Mashourian … Bodyguard
Warren Finnerty … Rancher
Tita Colorado … Rancher’s Wife
Luke Askew … Stranger on Highway
Luana Anders … Lisa
Sabrina Scharf … Sarah
Robert Walker Jr. … Jack
Sandy Brown Wyeth … Joanne
Robert Ball
Carmen Phillips
Ellie Wood Walker
(American Movie Classics Company LLC)

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