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USA 1969
Directed by
Dennis Hopper
95 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Easy Rider

One couldn't ask for a better primer on the hippie era than Easy Rider, a story of a couple of hip dudes (Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda) who make some easy money on a drug deal (their buyer is played by Phil Spector), buy a couple of hogs and.head for the New Orleans Mardi Gras.

Riffing on the American freewheelin' male hero mythos, (the central characters rather pointedly being called Billy and Wyatt), in its day it attracted a lot of debate over what it was trying to say, particularly with the abrupt ending. According to Fonda it was a condemnation of the philosophy of the two central characters, the title being a Negro slang term referring to a male who lives with a prostitute. The opening section in which we see Billy and Wyatt making a drug deal to backing of Curtis Mayfield's "Pusher Man" seems to make this pretty clear but like another comparable huge Zeitgeist hit, The Wild One (1954) its audience attended more to its glamorous surface of rebellious freedom and largely ignored the cautionary message, although, at least in this instance, one would have to admit it was well-buried.

There's lots of groovy talk, a visit to a hippie commune, an LSD trip sequence (one can probably assume that the actors had actually consumed the hallucinogenic), a run-in with rednecks and, of course, a soundtrack featuring many of the hit songs of the day, an unintended pioneering device (Crosby, Stills and Nash did the original score but when Hopper refused it a number of contemporary pop tunes were used instead) which became a tried and true ingredient for the success of a host of subsequent films.

Although the narrative is loosely episodic and if Hopper is clearly out of his gourd through much of the film, his improvisational approach (and no doubt cinematographer Lazlo Kovacs deserves considerable credit here) eminently captures the vibe of the times and gives the film an off-the-cuff travelogue style that well suits it.

Easy Rider is a classic of the era and its success launched Jack Nicholson, hitherto a small-time player in low budget films, to stardom.




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