See the biker classic that helped make Peter Fonda Born to be Wild.
Peter Fonda has sadly passed away at the age of 79 the other day, and a way to honor him is to look back at his 1969 biker classic “Easy Rider.” This is a road trip movie that’s about finding yourself, life, liberty, risks, and rules. It’s really about freedom. And there’s a bold distinction about it during the movie that really elaborates that word.
Dennis Hopper directed and co-starred with Fonda, and these two write themselves as two drug dealing bikers from L.A., en route to New Orleans for the Mardi Gras festival. Hopper is Billy, and Fonda would be Wyatt; and they both have drug money, stuffed in tubes and hidden in their gas tanks. Their outfits are so patriotic, they’re either deemed dangerous or heroic by the characters they come across.
Jack Nicholson has a unique supporting role as George Hanson, a drunken lawyer, who gets our heroes out of jail for participating in a parade without a license, and joins them on their trek. He’s a nut, but a well-meaning one, and he even offers the two bikers words of wisdom.
For instance, there’s a spiritual conversation between Billy, Wyatt, and George about a UFO Billy claims to have seen. George explains the consequences of aliens revealing themselves to humanity, that is if that was a UFO. But then again, it’s the joint talking.
And George also explains to Billy the difference between representing freedom and talking about it. The biggest difference is how representing it makes people think they’re dangerous. You have to read between the lines in order to fully comprehend.
The music in this movie gently breezes along like music videos drawn with patience and love. Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild,” The Band’s “The Weight,” and The Byrds’ “I Wasn’t Born to Follow,” among other hits, match the mood of these scenes, and they aren’t noisy or haphazard. A friend of mine once complained that “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” overdosed on that a bit, but I assure you “Easy Rider” is clean.
The editing process by Donn Cambern is dazzling, as well as the late Laszlo Kovac’s cinematography. Sometime, shots of the next scene would blink 3-4 times before it even occurs. And there’s a sequence at a French Quarter cemetery where the bikers and two hookers (Toni Basil and Karen Black) all suffer a bad trip from LSD. And the final shot in the film is stuck in my head. They’re all radiant, and they help represent the art of filmmaking.
How would this movie play out if it was made today? Maybe not set in this generation but in the 1969 time period. I have a hunch that it probably wouldn’t be as iconic and inspirational has it has been for decades, but at least, it would still offer the ambition we look for fresh pieces of entertainment.
All I acknowledge is that we’re lucky to look back at classic movies, because today, basically everyone and everything is cynical.
Now let’s get back to Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. Hopper passed away in 2010, and yet his direction and acting in “Easy Rider” has a magical and trippy vibe that keeps you glued to the screen. And as for Fonda, given the current misfortune, he’s filled with honesty and peace, making his Wyatt character memorable, and we loved him for that.
Despite their time differences, we will never forget about these two riders, and “Easy Rider” will always make sure of that.