One teen's quest to review the AFI's top 100 classic movies.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
No. 88: Easy Rider
Easy Rider (1969)
Starring: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson
Directed by: Dennis Hopper (and produced by Peter Fonda)
Awards: Nominated for 2 Oscars, including Best Supporting Actor for Nicholson
I heard conflicting opinions about Easy Rider before I ever watched the movie - everything from “it’s unwatchable” to “it’s my favorite movie of all time.” My poor brain was confused, so I decided to do some background reading. I read five different reviews (including the original 1969 New York Times review) and it didn’t help - at all. I definitely ended up more confused than before I began.
* “Easily one of the most overrated films of all time, Easy Rider, a definite product of its time, is a pretentious, indulgent and self-satisfied bore.”
* “The movie is a cultural landmark.”
* “It's pretty but lower case cinema.”
* “Easy Rider is a motorcycle drama with decidedly superior airs about it.”
I gave up on trying to determine its value, and decided to just sit and watch the movie. For future reference, probably the best plan of action.
Anyway, Easy Rider is a motorcycle drama teetering on the brink of camp – but when put in historical context, it’s somewhat redeemed (I’ll explain that later).
Two stylin’ 60’s-era bikers, Wyatt (Fonda) and Billy (Hopper), cash in on a drug deal and use their earnings to go on a bro-cycle road trip to New Orleans. Along the way, they meet a herd of hicks, visit a hippie commune, try every drug imaginable and, while in jail, pick up an alcoholic named George (Nicholson). The movie turns dark when George is killed by a group of hippie-hating Texans, and when Wyatt and Billy eventually get to New Orleans, what do they do? Go on an extended acid trip in a graveyard with two hookers. Classy! The two bikers head back home, and are shot and killed by two hillbillies who “think it’d be fun to scare the bejesus out of them.” It’s a depressing ending to...dare I say…not such a great movie?
We can start with the good. The best thing about EasyRider is Jack Nicholson. In the role that made him famous, he’s fantastic at showing both the funny and the weary side of an alcoholic. Peter Fonda is the better of the two bikers; his acting seems less wooden, and more realistic. Maybe it helped that they used real drugs to film the drug scenes? About that historical context: when the film was released, it shocked America. Older people were feeling out of touch with the counterculture - hippies, drugs, protesting! - and young adults identified with the movie’s themes.
On the bad side: a lot to talk about. Dennis Hopper’s acting? I’m sorry, it’s simply horrendous. The blaring soundtrack didn’t work for me – but to be fair, I had a raging headache, and my slightly sensitive ears didn’t like “Born To Be Wild” screamed over and over again. I also didn’t love the sets and color schemes, but they were of the period, so there it is.
So, if you like:
* American-flag embellished motorcycles
* Jack Nicholson at his sly, early best
* Early hippie motorcycle bro-mance
* Steppenwolf, The Byrds and lots of 60’s music
..then you’ll love Easy Rider.
Next up, Frankenstein (1931) – starring the always-intriguing Boris Karloff. I’ve seen this one before, but I love it, so I’ll be more then happy to watch it again and review it. Stick around and read about it!