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Easy Rider

Easy Rider
The recent passing of Peter Fonda motivated me to finally sit down and watch 1969's Easy Rider, the instant classic that is still a riveting cinematic time capsule that spoke to an entire new generation of filmgoers and filmmakers and this voice was not happy.

Fonda plays Wyatt and Dennis Hopper plays Billy, a pair of second rate drug dealers who have just finished a huge transaction in California. They invest part of their earnings in a pair of expensive motorcycles and stick the rest of the cash in the gas tanks of one of the bikes and begin a cross country odyssey to New Orleans before eventually retiring in Florida and their adventures along the way, including a respite in a convent, a chance encounter with an alcoholic lawyer, and some bigoted encounters that provide serious surprises.

Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda were the creative forces behind this bold and unflinching anti-establishment that went places films hadn't gone before. This movie takes an inside look at sub-cultures that had been previously hidden in the cinematic closet. This is the first film that I recall having a commune as one of its settings and though bigotry had been dealt with, it was mostly about black and white. We see these guys get hassled for no other reason than having long hair. That scene in the restaurant where the male patrons are all trying to figure out how to mess with them while the teenage female patrons are just dazzled by them, was rife with a tension I haven't experienced in quite awhile. And I will say that the finale bumped my rating up half a bag of popcorn. This is also the first mainstream film which featured characters smoking marijuana.

Hopper, Fonda, and Terry Southern's Oscar-nominated screenplay is fresh and uncompromising, going a lot of places we don't expect it to. Hopper's directorial debut is probably one of the best directorial debuts I've ever seen, a breathtaking postcard rich with arresting visuals, with a strong assist from cinematographer Lazlo Kovacs that puts the viewer right on the back of those bikes and in the center of this story. Hopper doesn't shy away from the statement he wants to make as a filmmaker here.

Just like the screenwriter and the director, actor Hopper hits a home run and Fonda is properly laid back as Wyatt, but, needless to say, acting honors go to Jack Nicholson, who completely energizes the middle section of the film with his drunken George Hansen, a performance that earned the actor his first Oscar nomination. Also enjoyed Karen Black and future one-hit wonder Toni Basil ("Oh Mickey") as a pair of pathetic hookers. And if you look closely, you might notice Fonda's daughter, Bridget, as one of the kids in the commune. Kudos as well to a superb song score that perfectly frames this story. A classic that lived u to its reputation. RIP, Mr. Fonda and Mr. Hopper.