Easy Rider  

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Get your motor runnin'
Head out on the highway
Lookin' for adventure
And whatever comes our way. -- "Born to Be Wild " (1968)

"In 1968, Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson, Bob Rafelson and Henry Jaglom made Easy Rider, the most successful cult film of all time. It was such a success that it probably isn’t a cult film at all, but a mainstream movie. It made a lot of money, and as you know, money signifies quality. Money also conveys power. As a result of making such a successful film, all five guys were given more money to direct more films. Hopper went off to Peru and made The Last Movie, Nicholson directed Drive, He Said, Henry Jaglom made A Safe Place, Bob Rafelson made Five Easy Pieces, and Peter Fonda made a western called The Hired Hand."-- Moviedrome by Alex Cox

"We blew it"--"Captain America" in Easy Rider (1969)

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Easy Rider is a 1969 road movie, written by Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Terry Southern. It was produced by Fonda and directed by Hopper. Southern also came up with the title of the movie, which borrows the slang term easy rider (which in this context refers to a man who is supported financially by a girlfriend who is a prostitute).

A landmark counterculture film, 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. In Easy Rider, real drugs were used in scenes showing the use of marijuana and other substances.


Easy Rider (soundtrack)

The movie's "groundbreaking" soundtrack featured The Band, The Byrds, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Steppenwolf. Editor Donn Cambern used various music from his own record collection to make watching hours of bike footage more interesting during editing. Most of Cambern's music was used, with licensing costs of $1 million, triple the film's budget. The film's extensive use of pop and rock music for the soundtrack was similar to what had recently been used for 1967's The Graduate.

Bob Dylan was asked to contribute music, but was reluctant to use his own recording of "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)", so a version performed by Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn was used instead. Also, instead of writing an entirely new song for the film, Dylan simply wrote out the first verse of "Ballad of Easy Rider" and told the filmmakers, "Give this to McGuinn, he’ll know what to do with it." McGuinn completed the song and performed it in the film.

Originally, Peter Fonda had intended the band Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young to write an entirely original soundtrack for the film, but this failed to materialize for two reasons. For one, cutter Donn Cambern edited the footage much more closely to what were only meant as temporary tracks than was customary at the time, which led to everyone involved finding them much more suited to the material than they had originally thought. On the other hand, Hopper increasingly got control over every aspect over the course of the project and decided to throw CSNY out behind Fonda's back, telling the band as an excuse, "Look, you guys are really good musicians, but honestly, anybody who rides in a limo can't comprehend my movie, so I'm gonna have to say no to this, and if you guys try to get in the studio again, I may have to cause you some bodily harm."


The protagonists are two freewheeling hippies: Wyatt (Fonda), nicknamed "Captain America", and Billy (Hopper). Fonda and Hopper said that these characters' names refer to Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid. Wyatt dresses in American flag-adorned leather (with an Office of the Secretary of Defense Identification Badge affixed to it), while Billy dresses in Native American-style buckskin pants and shirts and a bushman hat. The former is appreciative of help and of others, while the latter is often hostile and leery of outsiders.

After smuggling cocaine from Mexico to Los Angeles, Wyatt and Billy sell their contraband to "Connection," a man (played by Phil Spector) in a Rolls-Royce, and score a large sum of money. With the money from the sale stuffed into a plastic tube hidden inside the Stars & Stripes-adorned fuel tank of Wyatt's California-style chopper, they ride eastward in an attempt to reach New Orleans, Louisiana, in time for Mardi Gras.

During their trip, Wyatt and Billy meet and have a meal with a rancher, whom Wyatt admires for his simple, traditional farming lifestyle. Later, the duo pick up a hitch-hiker (Luke Askew) and agree to take him to his commune, where they stay for a day. Life in the commune appears to be hard, with young hippies from the city struggling to grow their own crops in a dry climate with poor soil and little rainfall. (One of the children seen in the commune is played by Fonda's four-year-old daughter Bridget). At one point, the bikers witness a prayer for blessing of the new crop, as put by a communard: A chance "to make a stand", and to plant "simple food, for our simple taste". The commune is also host to a traveling theater group that "sings for its supper" (performs for food). The notion of "free love" appears to be practiced, with two women seemingly sharing the affections of the hitch-hiking communard and then turning their attention to Wyatt and Billy. The hitch-hiker wants the two bikers to stay at the commune, saying, "the time is now", to which Wyatt replies "I'm hip about time...but I just gotta go." As the bikers leave, the hitch-hiker (known only as "Stranger on highway" in the credits) gives Wyatt some LSD for him to share with "the right people".

Later, while jokingly riding along with a parade in a small town, the pair are arrested by the local authorities for "parading without a permit" and thrown in jail. There, they befriend American Civil Liberties Union lawyer and local drunk George Hanson (Jack Nicholson) who has spent the night in jail after overindulging in alcohol. George helps them get out of jail, and decides to travel with Wyatt and Billy to New Orleans. As they camp that night, Wyatt and Billy introduce George to marijuana. As an alcoholic and a "square", George is reluctant to try the marijuana ("It leads to harder stuff", and "I don't want to get hooked"), but he quickly relents.

While attempting to eat in a small rural Louisiana restaurant, the trio's appearance immediately attracts the attention of the locals. The girls in the restaurant want 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 states, "I don't believe they'll make the parish line." As the waitress does not take their order Wyatt, Billy, and George leave without eating and make camp outside of town. The events of the day cause George to comment: "This used to be a hell of a good country. I can't understand what's gone wrong with it." He observes 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 find the trio asleep and brutally assault them with clubs. Billy manages to scare off the attackers by yelling and brandishing a knife. Wyatt and Billy suffer minor injuries, but George has been fatally beaten. Wyatt and Billy wrap George's body up in his sleeping bag, gather his belongings, and vow to return the items to his parents.

They continue to New Orleans and find a brothel George had intended to visit. Taking prostitutes Karen (Karen Black) and Mary (Toni Basil) with them, Wyatt and Billy decide to go outside and wander the parade-filled street of the Mardi Gras celebration. They end up in a cemetery, where all four ingest the LSD which the hitch-hiker had earlier given to Wyatt. They experience a psychedelic bad trip infused with Catholic prayer represented through quick edits, sound effects, and over-exposed film.

Making camp afterward, Billy declares that their trek has been a success. Wyatt disagrees, declaring, "We blew it." The next morning, the two are continuing their trip eastward to Florida (where they hope to retire wealthy) when two rednecks in a pickup truck spot them and decide to "scare the hell out of them" with their shotgun. As they pull alongside Billy, one of the men lazily aims the shotgun at him and threatens and insults him by saying, "Want me to blow your brains out?" and "Why don't you get a haircut?" When Billy flips his middle finger up at them, the hillbilly fires the shotgun at Billy, who immediately hits the pavement, seriously wounded in the side. As the truck then takes off past Wyatt down the road, Wyatt turns around and races back to put his jacket over his critically injured friend, who is already covered in blood, before riding off for help. By this time, the pickup truck has turned around and closes on Wyatt. The hillbilly fires at Wyatt as he speeds by the pickup, hitting the bike's gas tank and causing it to instantly erupt into a fiery explosion. Wyatt lands by the side of the road, apparently dead. As the murderous rednecks drive away, the film ends with a shot of the flaming bike in the middle of the deserted road, as the camera ascends to the sky.

See also

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