Our reviews of America Lost and Found: The BBS Story (Blu-ray) Criterion Collection (published December 20th, 2010), Easy Rider: 35th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (published January 10th, 2005), and Easy Rider (Blu-Ray) (published November 12th, 2009) are also available.
A man went looking for America and couldn't find it anywhere!
As with any film, when you sit down to view Easy Rider, you bring your experiences with you and they affect your feeling for the film. Probably because of all it represents, Easy Rider tends to be a bit more polarizing than most other movies. Some people love it for what it is, others love it for hat it represents, and still others just love the way it looks and sounds. Likewise, there are those who either just don't get it, don't want to get it, or just flat out despise it. Where on this continuum do you fall and why?
There is no denying Easy Rider is an important American film. Coming at the end of the turbulent '60s (and all that represents) it spelled out the deeply felt fears of the counterculture youth at that time. Not only the fears directed at and by that youth movement by other societal groups, but also fears over searching for truth, fear of not finding freedom, as well as fear of finding freedom. I am convinced that Easy Rider is one of those films that almost stumbles into a role of importance. It is pretty clear to me that Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda had no real idea that they were making a deeply layered movie. Rather they were just making a movie.
Part Road Movie, part Western, part drug-induced-American-history class, Easy Rider speak to its viewers in different ways. As I stated above, it all depends on what you bring to the table—how you feel politically, how your parents treated you, how old you are, how often or far you rebelled in your own life. Easy Rider tells the story of two social outcasts (Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper) from the '60s who strike a deal for some cocaine in a Mexican junkyard only to return to L.A. and sell it to some rich dude (played by record producer Phil Spector). They have hit "the big one" and buy a couple of Harley Davidson choppers. After stashing the remainder of their loot in a plastic tube and stuffing it into the gas tank (symbolizing that money fuels the American Dream?), the two take off for Mardi Gras and then on to early retirement in Florida. They are going to live the American Dream, and that dream is all about Freedom with a capital F.
Along the way, the two are turned away from a local motel, as soon as the proprietor gets a look at their long hair. He doesn't want any trouble from any hippies, we get the feeling. So the two camp off the side of the road. The next morning, Fonda has a flat and they roll up into a barn and borrow a farmer's tools to fix it. They stay for dinner and we get the sense here that Fonda has a DEEP abiding respect for a man who can successfully live off the land by his own hands. Then they're off.
The twosomes' next stop is to pick up a hitchhiker who needs a lift over to his commune. They stay for dinner and a little romp in a swimming hole with a couple of free-love advocates. But Hopper is itching to get to New Orleans, so they're off. We are left with the sense though that Fonda feels he could stay there, maybe forever. He enjoys the vibe of working together as one big community for the good of all.
The next trip is to a local jail cell after the two get a bit rambunctious and tailgate a walking parade through a small town's main street. Booked for "parading without a license" they run into Jack Nicholson sleeping off a whiskey jag from the night before. The group hit it off despite their differences (mostly because Jack plays a card carrying ACLU lawyer, I'm sure) and Nicholson buys into the myth of freedom and rides off with the twosome, bound for New Orleans.
They find a small town diner and sit down for some chow. The local teen girls are fascinated by their looks, but the backward town males jeer them out of the diner and back onto the road. The threesome pulls off the side of the road for another fitful nights' sleep. But it turns out they were followed by the locals from the diner who pound and pummel the group with bats and steel pipes, killing Nicholson in the process. The next morning the remaining two head off and complete their journey. They fall in with a couple of hookers and take a nasty acid trip during Mardi Gras. They leave for Florida and an early retirement, which is when Fonda utters one of the final phrases of the movie "we blew it man." The next morning they are off again on the road, where they get blown away by a couple of locals. End of movie.
Columbia TriStar is releasing Easy Rider as a 30th Anniversary Special Edition. The disc contains a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer, a remixed 5.1 and 2.0 English soundtrack, tons of subtitles, a commentary track by Director Dennis Hopper, a documentary on the making of the film and talent files on Nicholson, Fonda, Hopper and Karen Black who plays one of the hookers. The transfer looks terrific—better than nearly any 30-year-old film has a right to look in this day and age. Columbia have really outdone themselves with this transfer. I remember looking at quite a few of the nighttime campfire scenes and marveling at how well the disc does with the flames. There was no noticeable blooming and the colors were deeply saturated. The contrast level was just right. Other than a few grainy blue sky shots (and what disc doesn't have those) this picture is nearly perfect.
László Kovács directed the photography here and quite a bit of this film is stunning to watch. Many of the shots are beautifully framed, especially considering the technology the group was working with and the fact that the entire film was made for well under a half million dollars. Quite a bit of the film takes place as the road warriors are traveling from place to place, with many shots of them on the road with their Harleys. The music during these interludes must also be mentioned as the soundtrack contains some classic rock songs from the time period, including The Weight and Born to be Wild. The audio is good enough, if not spectacular. The remastered soundtrack sounded pretty good and dialogue was clear and never thin or tinny.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
My only complaint with this disc is I would have liked to see a bit more in the way of extras. I loved Hopper's commentary, but what about another from Fonda? I think a Criterion-style commentary with some production values would have played nicely here with comments from Hopper, Fonda, Nicholson and Kovács. My other gripe is that the talent files were woefully incomplete, not giving the entire working history of the players that were presented. I also would have liked to see more cast member profiled. It seems Columbia has focused on the four big names of the film and profiled only select pieces of their work. Make a few more pages and give their entire working history. It makes us appreciate their work even more.
Representing a certain ethos in America, Easy Rider is an important work. Made on a shoestring budget, it is a story of outcasts making a movie about outcasts. It's about freedom, intolerance, and selling out. It will probably make you question the meaning and purpose of freedom in this country and whether or not you really feel free. If you haven't seen it, rent it. If you have, buy it. It deserves a spot in every collection. Scheduled for release December 7, 1999.
The movie and disc are acquitted. Columbia TriStar is praised for the work they continue to do with outstanding transfers of every single movie they release on DVD. Case dismissed with the thanks of the court.
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Scales of Justice
• Making-Of Featurette: Easy Rider: Shaking the Cage Featuring New Interviews with Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and More
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