Easy Rider (1969) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Tuna's notes in white:

Easy Rider (1969) is a seminal work of the 60s. In case someone reading this has not seen this low budget film, the plot is rather simple. Dennis Hopper, who co-wrote and directed, and Peter Fonda, who co-wrote and produced, are outlaw bikers. After a successful coke sale, they take a road trip from LA to Mardi Gras. Along the way, they spend time in a hippy commune, and then are arrested in a small town for parading without a license. They find themselves in a cell with Jack Nicholson, an alcoholic lawyer who has worked for the ACLU. Jack joins them.

Camping outside a small Louisiana town, the locals beat Nicholson to death for hanging around long haired freaks. Hopper and Fonda make it to Mardi Gras, visit a whore house, and take two ladies on a tour of Mardi Gras and have an acid trip in a cemetery. On their way out of town, locals shoot both of them. Just before, there is an important discussion around a campfire, where Hopper is excited about having scored with the dope deal, and that they can now retire in Florida. Fonda only says, "We blew it."

While the music was very nostalgic, and was the first time that "found music" was used in a film, I was not impressed watching it. It was sort of old news. The "we blew it" line did puzzle me. Thank god for a featurette also on the DVD. In a very real sense, the MPAA was directly responsible for this film being made. LBJ had just created the MPAA and put Jack Valenti in charge. Peter Fonda was in Toronto promoting The Trip, and heard Valenti's first public speech. Valenti said, "My friends, you are my friends, we have to stop making movies about motorcycles, sex and drugs, and make more movies like Doctor Dolittle." Fonda went back to his hotel, fired up a couple of joints, had a Heini, and was signing publicity photos, and suddenly knew what he wanted to do for his next film. He woke Hopper out of a sound sleep to get him interested in the project.

The featurette is chock full of anecdotes about the making of the film, and the attitudes they encountered shooting in the south. Most interesting of all was Hopper's explanation of the "we blew it" phrase. According to Hopper, the film is actually an anti-counter culture message. The two "outlaws," by exercising their version of freedom, were actually destroying their country, and with it, their freedom. I would never have guessed that. Indeed, the film was interpreted very subjectively wherever it played. In Texas, they cheered the killing of the outlaw long hair hippy freaks, while California audiences stood up and screamed "off the pigs," which, in a way, makes Hopper's point about "we blew it."

Hopper claims that he was trying to make a "European art film" and hoped to win at Cannes. Not all of the talent was in front of the camera. László Kovács was the DP, and did amazing work. Bob Dylan wrote lyrics for a song for the film.

There is no doubt about the importance of this film, but I found the back story far more compelling than the film itself viewing it from the perspective of 36 years later.

Scoop's comments in yellow:

A very important landmark in the history of film:

(1) It virtually created the massive youth market of the 70s and 80s by demonstrating that a youth-oriented independent film could be highly profitable even if made on the cheap.

(2) Since it was a massive crossover hit, it exposed Jack Nicholson to the world. This wrested him from the obscure genre films of his early career and made him a star, eventually THE cinema icon of his generation.

(3) If you are an early baby boomer, born just after the war, this movie will bring back your youth. It is a perfect encapsulation of the broth and marrow of the 60s Zeitgeist. It portrays the divisive nature of America in the Vietnam era, and was a cultural touchstone that celebrated the motto of the counter-culture: "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll." Your attitude toward this movie showed whether you were with us or agin' us.

(4) The soundtrack is still one of my favorite albums, featuring classic 60s anthems like "The Weight" and "Born to be Wild." There is quite a story behind it. When it was first screened for Columbia executives, Hopper had not yet scored it, so he just stuck some oldies in there to show where the music would go. The studio boys, also owning Columbia Records, smelled the greenbacks and said "leave it that way." Thus was created, when the album and the movie both scored big, a whole new way to score movies!

As for the movie. Well, it stinks, frankly.

  • It's essentially about a couple of lowlife drug dealers who drive around for a while, go to a whorehouse, then get blown away by a bunch of lowlife rednecks. It is generally misunderstood to be about "hippies" versus "straights", but the Fonda and Hopper characters are in fact capitalist profiteers with long hair, not anti-capitalist hippies. Real hippies didn't buy hookers and sell cocaine.

  • The Kovacs photography is generally solid, but even there some of the devices are a real hoot when viewed today (fish eye lens to show a "trip", e.g.).

  • The acting is incredibly inept except for Jack Nicholson, who is as brilliant as ever. Fonda and Hopper were barely above the amateur level, if at all, and much of the cast really does consist of amateurs, just people they met on location as they were filming. It may seem like a good idea to have local sheriffs and waitresses played by real local sheriffs and waitresses, but it is a much better idea in theory than in practice.

  • The editing was ... I don't think there was any editing, to tell ya the truth. If there was an editor, the guy had been smoking some serious reefer.



  • Bonus CD songtrack with music from the movie
  • 80-page British Film Institute Modern Classic book Easy Rider
  • "Making of" Featurette
  • Number of discs: 2


We have female nudity in two scenes.

  • The first, in a hot springs at the hippy commune, Luana Anders and future California State Senator Sabrina Scharf show breasts.
  • In the second, Toni Basil, as one of the New Orleans hookers, does full frontal and rear nudity.

The Critics Vote ...

  • It was nominated for two Oscars: Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Nicholson).

  • Named "Best First Work" at Cannes

  • Interestingly, the 20 minute "making of" featurette also won awards.

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, Tuna says, "This is a B+, as much for the importance of the film as for its quality." Scoop says, "Bad film. Vary hard to watch except for Nicholson, but an important landmark in cinema history, and still of interest for 60's nostalgia and the sound track. This is a C+."

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