Movie Review – Easy Rider
This month Born To Ride reviews the Iconic film “Easy Rider.” The ultimate in biker films, Easy Rider ventures beyond the ‘exploitation’ theme of similar films exposing the lifestyle of, and the counterculture of the late sixties. This film spawned countless look-alike exploitation pieces, and as a stand alone in its class it can be credited for the creation of the very lifestyle that a lot of us enjoy today. There is no reason for me to explain the plot of this movie. If you are reading this magazine, you have already seen it at least twice, and can remember the nuances that this piece
contains. This month we will go behind the scenes and explore some facts and fiction regarding this monumental film.
Sex, Drugs and Rock – N – Roll
Easy Rider explores the societal landscape, issues, and tensions in the United States during the sixties, such as the rise and fall of the hippie movement, drug use, and communal lifestyle. A behind the scenes examination would reveal that Easy Rider is legendary for its use of real drugs in its portrayal of marijuana and other substances. The main players themselves show the great diversity in these turbulent times. Fonda, as Wyatt, (a loose reference to Wyatt Earp) adorned in the American Flag leather jacket and helmet, Billy (the Kid) played by Dennis Hopper in Native American style buckskin pants and bushman style hat, and of course Nicholson as the (lawyer) George Hanson in the traditional business suit show a microcosm of the times and styles of this era. It is alleged that the characters Wyatt and Billy were based on Roger McGuinn and David Crosby of the Byrds. That fact denied by some and accepted by few, did lead to the production of the movie’s soundtrack, where McGuinn is credited for the score. “The Ballad of Easy Rider” however was actually Bob Dylan’s idea! Dylan did not want to contribute to the actual soundtrack for the film so he wrote the first verse to the song and said “give this to McGuinn, he’ll know what to do with it”! McGuinn’s legendary ‘sound’ is contributed to the Rickenbacker 12-string electric guitar that he introduced while playing with the Byrds. The music in this film is extraordinary, featuring songs by Steppenwolf, Jimi Hendrix, the Band, and many others. Embattled music producer Phil Spector also appears as the ‘connection’ that purchases the contraband Wyatt brought back from Mexico. Go figure!!
The Southern Connection
Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Terry Southern wrote the film. A book written by Lee Hill explains the behind the scenes issues with the production of the movie, and gives a new outlook to those who desire to learn. The book is included in the 35th anniversary DVD “Deluxe Edition” of the movie. According to Lee Hill, the part of (Lawyer) George Hanson had been written for Southern’s friend, actor Rip Torn. When Torn met with Hopper and Fonda at a New York restaurant in early 1968 to discuss the role, Hopper began ranting about the “rednecks” he had encountered on his scouting trip to the South. Torn, a Texas native took exception to some of Hopper’s remarks, and the two almost came to blows. Torn withdrew from the project and had to be replaced by Jack Nicholson. In 1994, Hopper was interviewed about Easy Rider by Jay Leno on The Tonight Show, and during the interview, he alleged that Torn had pulled a knife on him during the altercation, prompting Torn to successfully sue Hopper for defamation.
“God is a great Gaffer”
The film, shot mainly in the daytime under natural lighting, is not in itself a technical wonder but more of a true view of the road and life in the period that it portrays. Hopper fought the crew to take control of the production of the film, and many altercations ensued behind the scenes during the filming. Hopper commented that “God is a great Gaffer” and that statement does ring true in the final cut of the movie. The motorcycles used in the film were 1949 thru 1952 Harley Davidson ‘Hydraglide’ units purchased at a police auction for $500.00 each. There were a total of two each (captain America and Billy Bike) units constructed by chopper builders Cliff Vaughs and Ben Hardy under the direction of Peter Fonda. The crew believed they would need two each of the machines to complete the production, “in case one of the old bikes were wrecked or failed to run.” One “Captain America” machine was demolished in the final scene, while the other three were stolen and probably taken apart before their significance, as movie props became known! The remaining “Captain America” bike was purchased by Dan Haggerty, and rebuilt. He sold the bike in an auction in 2001 after displaying it in a museum for all those years. Haggerty played a Hippie in the movie, and was credited as an extra. A “touchstone for a generation” that “captured the national imagination” Produced on an estimated budget of $340,000.00 this film by 1972 had produced $60,000,000.00 (that’s sixty million!) worldwide. Available today on DVD the movie continues to please the generations of believers in the ‘free wheeling’ lifestyle it portrays. It is in this reviewer’s heart and soul the NUMBER ONE biker film ever made! It runs 95 minutes, and should receive 95 stars if that many were available! See it again, and again. It is your legacy after all. …