Thursday, 7 January 2010

I'm Hip About Time.

Easy Rider is one of those films that someone of my age always hears about yet so few actually get around to seeing. When I pulled it off the shelf at the DVD store it was the third time I'd seen it sitting there, and I almost put it back when I saw something else alongside it I had been meaning to watch also. I don't know what it is about the film - it probably has something to do with the notoriety around the production, plus the fact that, let's be honest here, it's 40 years old. That's actually a pretty decent age. It's a long time ago.

How hot is Fonda's bike (the front one?) I want. Immediately.

The film has held up very well, though, I must say. I often find myself watching films that were termed groundbreaking so many years ago and being mildly unimpressed - probably because once that ground was broken it was turned and mined so often as to become old-hat by the time I turned up fifteen years later. Easy Rider has maintained its uniqueness, however, and I dare say a big chunk of its ability to retain it has to do with Dennis Hopper's complete lack of general sanity and the gratuitous use of drugs during the production of the film. Hell, they didn't even really take a crew or cast for most of it, just made it up as they went along (and still scored a Screenplay Oscar nom! Snap, boys.)

So, the film was directed by Hopper, produced by Peter Fonda (who both starred) and written by Hopper, Fonda and Terry Southern, who had made a name for himself with films like Dr Strangelove. (I'm not going to go into the politics of credit and all of the folklore regarding the making of this film. It's too hard. I'm going to go off the credit list. It is wildly entertaining - I've just been reading about it in Peter Biskind's Easy Riders Raging Bulls - check it out.) Billy (Hopper) and Wyatt a.k.a. Captain America (Fonda) are on a road trip of sorts, having scored a pile of cocaine that they had successfully resold for a good profit. They're heading to New Orleans for Mardi Gras with two motorbikes and a pile of weed. Along the way they pick up lawyer George (Jack Nicholson, who was totally not a star back then - weird, huh?), and the three of them just motor along the highways of rural America, dealing with discrimination from locals offended by their hippy look, getting stoned (a lot), dropping acid, just generally doing whatever it is they want to do. 

It's a marvelous road movie, because the ultimate goal (Mardi Gras) isn't really a goal at all - it's some strange ephemeral thing off in the distance that doesn't really mean anything to anyone, just happens to be there for motivation. Upon arrival, you realise the ultimate destination was where they were at any given point - it really was about the journey, about discovery, about exploration and experimentation and living the lives they deemed to be the most relevant for that day and age. And the ending - a brilliant and tragic ending.

The performances... well, Hopper's was manic, Fonda's was distant and Nicholson's was particularly restrained. They kind of improvised most of the film, so their performances were all pretty much pitch-perfect, considering they were drug-fucked as they wrote it and performed it. And it never really goes too crazy - it does threaten to veer off into extremes, but somehow Hopper and Fonda manage to reign it back in just in time.

Strangely timeless, for a film featuring hippies, made in the hippy era. Perhaps the reality of them inhabiting the mindset of those featured in the film allowed for a much truer representation than clever scripting, smart casting and more money would have allowed. Their own insanity was what saved the film. 4 stars.

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