Thursday, January 12, 2012

AFI Top 100 Countdown: #84 EASY RIDER


Directed by: Dennis Hopper
Written by: Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, Terry Southern
Starring: Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, and Jack Nicholson

AFI Top 100 Criteria:

Critical RecognitionFormal commendation in print, television, and digital media.

*It plays today more as a period piece than as living cinema, but it captures so surely the tone and look of that moment in time." Roger Ebert,  Chicago Sun-Times.

*The ultimate "road trip" movie." Dennis Schwartz, Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Major Award Winner: Recognition from competitive events including awards from peer groups, critics, guilds, and major film festivals.

*Academy: Nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Jack Nicholson. Nominated for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Based on Material Not Previously Published or Produced for Dennis Hopper, Terry Southern, and Peter Fonda.

* BAFTA Awards: Nominated Best Supporting Actor for Jack Nicholson

* Cannes Film Festival: Won for Best First Work: Dennis Hopper. Nominated for the Palme d'Or Dennis Hopper.

Popularity Over Time: Includes success at the box office, television and cable airings, and DVD/VHS sales and rentals.

*Budget: $400,00

*Gross: $60,000 worldwide, as of January 1972

*Rentals: $19,100,000

Historical Significance: A film's mark on the history of the moving image through visionary narrative devices, technical innovation or other groundbreaking achievements.

* EASY RIDER was one of the first movies depicting the "counter culture" of America going on at the time. The movie was revered for its stark look at the social divide in America, the fallacy of the hippie movement, and one of the more realistic depictions of drug use. It influenced many movies and it has become a reference point for many students looking back at this period of American cinema with other movies such as THE LAST PICTURE SHOW.

Cultural Impact: A film's mark on American society in matters of style and substance.

* In 1998, it was added to the Library of Congress National Registry for it's impact on American culture.

Javi: I always feel like I have been born in the wrong decade.  I know, I know, every kid that listens to the Flaming Lips and watched the Monterey Pop DVD has said that.  But I honestly thought I should have been around, when true believers felt they could change the world against the evils of the establishment by being in it but being different from it.  The sad reality is that the idealism always gives way to reality in a lot of ways, and sometimes damn good intentions are not good enough to withstand the barrage of the ways of tradition.  With this I say that EASY RIDER was an enjoyably depressing movie that is well worth its placement in this countdown.

Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, along with Jack Nicholson, make up a lot what makes this movie amazing.  As the wandering troubadours of the South, they go and try to find "America" while journeying through its backroads.  I am particularly fond of the cinematography in nature, as I feel it is very symbolic of the beauty of America, which lies more in land than in its people. It is very interesting to see how as much things change the more they stay the same. The conflicts between people of all different types of social, economical, and (unfortunately) racial types are still here and it almost feels like they have only gotten worse since the 60's. Reading a lot of other people's reactions to the movie, it seems that they are under the impression that this is just a mere portrait of a time-gone by. But if movies like EASY RIDER are just that, then they would be even more precious in my mind.

When I watched this movie, I kept on thinking and thinking about the comparisons to the book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and how there are some very similar themes here that are explored about hippy culture and how easy it is to take something pure and bastardize it as the characters in this movie often times do. And similarly, drugs are the culprit. Yes, they liberate your mind, make music, and sex feel just THAT much better, but damn if it isn't a slippery slope as we see in the cemetery scene shows.

I want to heap more praise on this movie, and for anyone that's ever been remotely into the whole "hippie" free love movement, this would be a great movie to watch to give a sobering look what the counterculture was really about.

JonesyOne part, or should I say parts, of history that I have always been fascinated with are the countercultural movements of a generation. That's a pretty broad statement, but it's always so intriguing to see why/how a specific group decided to break away from the norm.
EASY RIDER takes a look at the hippie, roadster lifestyle of the late 60s. I took to this movie right away because 60s counterculture holds a special place in my heart. I studied and wrote a thesis based on parts of that movement focusing on the protesting of the war. I never delved into the communal and hippie aspect of that decade, so this movie showed another side of the decade I hadn't seen. Rather than getting caught up in the political antics of the era, these bikers take to the road with next to nothing and hoping to just be free. Their path is dusty, gritty, yet full of possibilities.

Hopper paints a realistic picture of the tribulations of trying to defy the norm. Hopper, Peter Fonda, and Jack Nicholson travel, without much or if any plans, and find themselves wherever the roads take them. Unfortunately like anyone who appears "different", they run into many locals who see their lifestyle as a joke and are met with racist and homophobic comments. Even though this movie was made over 30 years ago, it still echoes sentiments that are in our world today. There are people still who scoff at change. Counterculture movements nowadays are deemed un-American when in reality, speaking out and being whatever freedom means to you is probably one of the most American things one can do. 

Hopper's film completely understands this concept for that generation. I'm a little surprised at myself because I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I would. I didn't figure a biker movie would be relatable at all, but I'm glad it proved me wrong. As a landmark counterculture film, I hope that future filmmakers will draw inspiration from this. Every decade needs a counterculture film for its own. 

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