EASY RIDER (78) (second viewing: 77)

Directed by: Dennis Hopper (1969)

Starring: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson

The Pitch: Two pothead bikers travel across America.

Theo Sez: Forget all the talk about how irrevocably dated this is : it's actually fascinating, if only because it's so strewn with prototypes for stuff we've seen in 90s movies - the soundtrack of hits used as wallpaper, the urbanite's condescension for small-town America, the outlandish aliens-among-us theory a la MEN IN BLACK (even the pioneer-with-an-axe statue outside FARGO's Brainerd seems to derive from here, unless it's some kind of Midwestern landmark I don't know about). That it's also loose and semi-experimental - i.e. totally unlike 90s movies - makes for a powerful mix of strange and familiar : it's what films today might be like had they taken a different turn twentysomething years ago (had STAR WARS never happened, in other words). Visually it takes risks in every frame - there's flashing, pitch-darkness, you name it - and the editing is genuinely original, especially in the (unique?) way it likes to stretch out transitions between scenes by cutting back and forth between the scene that's ending and the one about to start (it's like a dissolve, but done with cuts) ; above all there's the dizzyingly out-there acid-trip sequence (as untrammelled as anything in THE TRIP), totally unexpected in a big box-office hit like this and no doubt responsible for screwing up a whole generation of arthouse-virgins back in '69. Oh, and of course there's also a dippy flower-power message and a good deal of political fuzziness (our counter-cultural heroes seen as emblems of the good old days, America as it "used to be" - right-wing mantras in left-wing clothing), not to mention moments when it is indeed irrevocably dated (Hopper to Fonda : "Let's go get us a real groovy dinner!"). Guess there must be some reason why such an incredible movie could wind up among the year's biggest hits. [Second viewing, 20 years later, much the same rating: What stands out most strongly is how conflicted this is about the hippy lifestyle it depicts (making its success all the more surprising); the denizens of the commune are obnoxious, the editing in the acid trip oppressive, our heroes end up unsatisfied ("We blew it") even before the shocking ending. A time-capsule in more ways than one, evoking the confusion of its time more than anything, a revolution in the air but in no way established; Fonda is into the lifestyle, Hopper too much of a wild man - and an artist - to really embrace it, Nicholson more intent on carrying out grand larceny on the whole movie. The tension between the various elements means it never comes off smug, plus it's actually less dated now than when I first watched 20 years ago (see e.g. the current, uncritical mainstreaming of weed-smoking, an obvious straight line from Fonda telling Jack "Try this instead"). Formal boldness and avant-garde leanings still incredible.]