year 1969 witnessed the release of a number of legendary films,
including BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, TRUE GRIT, BOB & CAROL
& TED & ALICE, THE WILD BUNCH, MIDNIGHT COWBOY, and, of course,
the iconic EASY RIDER, which, THE HOLLWOOD REPORTER declared, was
"very likely the clearest and most disturbing presentation of the
angry estrangement of American youth to be brought to the screen."
The low-budget indie road film, starring Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda,
and Jack Nicholson, received two Oscar nominations, for Best Supporting
Actor (Nicholson) and Best Original Screenplay, which was scripted
by Hopper, Fonda, and Texas-born author Terry Southern. In 1998,
this landmark movie, which helped start the "New Hollywood" of the
1970s, was added to the National Film Registry as a "culturally,
historically or aesthetically significant" motion picture. The counterculture
classic also boasted a revolutionary soundtrack, with songs by such
leading acts as Steppenwolf, The Byrds, Roger McGuinn, and The Jimi
The film follows two outlaw bikers, Billy (Hopper) and Wyatt (Fonda),
newly-flush from a drug deal, as they travel across the Southwest
headed to New Orleans. Along the way, they befriend an alcoholic
lawyer, George Hanson, vividly portrayed by Nicholson. Tragically,
all three lose their lives to brutal Southern yokels. Hanson is
bludgeoned and the bikers are shot off their motorcycles. The film's
poster read: "A man went looking for America. And couldn't find
EASY RIDER: 50 YEARS LOOKING FOR AMERICA thoughtfully examines the
genesis, making of, reception, and legacy of this cinematic masterpiece.
Discussing the numerous "memorable images" that make up the film,
Bingen and Dunn assert, "Go ahead; pick your favorite. It's fun.
Peter Fonda throwing away his watch? Any scene with the men at a
campfire? Any scene-every scene-on the choppers? (There are a lot
of those.) Those zombie-like commune dwellers? Any bit involving
Jack Nicholson? The freakish 16mm New Orleans cemetery? Or, if you
tend toward the dark side, the fiery climax? (Which all by itself
probably kept a lot of would-be Jack Kerouacs off the road in the
EASY RIDER is filled with provocative, unforgettable dialogue. Consider
this exchange between Billy and George:
Billy: "Hey, man. All we represent to them, man, is somebody who
needs a haircut."
George: "Oh, no. What you represent to them is freedom."
Billy: "What the hell is wrong with freedom, man? That's what it's
George: "Oh, yeah, that's right. That's what it's all about, all
right. But talkin' about it and bein' it, that's two different things.
I mean, its real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in
the marketplace. Of course, don't ever tell anybody that they're
not free, 'cause then they're gonna get real busy killin' and maimin'
to prove to you that they are. Oh, yeah, they're gonna talk to you,
and talk to you, and talk to you about individual freedom. But they
see a free individual, it's gonna scare'em."
Cinephiles, especially those interested in the films of the Sixties,
should read this excellent study. "Get your motor runnin'/head out
on the highway/looking for adventure/in whatever comes our way…"