Film Review: Easy Rider (1969)

Also known as: The Loners (working title), Sem Destino (Brazil)
Release Date: May 12th, 1969 (Cannes)
Directed by: Dennis Hopper
Written by: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Terry Southern
Music by: The Band, The Byrds, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Roger McGuinn, Steppenwolf
Cast: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, Toni Basil, Bridget Fonda (uncredited)

Raybert Productions, Pando Company, Columbia Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“[giving Capt America some LSD] When you get to the right place, with the right people, quarter this. You know, this could be the right place. The time’s running out.” – Stranger on the Highway

In an effort to rectify the injustice of not seeing every American classic ever made, I watched Easy Rider. I know, I know… there are countless American classics, at this point, but there are many I haven’t seen, this being one of them. Every year since film was invented there have been at least a handful of great pictures, if not more. So I don’t think anyone, other than Roger Ebert, has seen them all.

I’m not quite sure why I haven’t seen Easy Rider until now. I’ve known about it pretty much my entire life but it’s never really been something I felt like buying and it hasn’t really streamed anywhere until it popped up on FilmStruck. But having seen other classic biker films, I wanted to check this out before it was cycled out of streaming circulation.

I’ve been a massive fan of Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson for decades. Seeing the three of them come together for this motion picture, which forever altered filmmaking, was quite a treat.

However, even though this is credited as being a movie that changed everything going forward, it wasn’t the first of its kind. Peter Fonda starred in two films, which were produced by B-movie king Roger Corman. Those films were The Wild Angels and The Trip. Both dealt with the two main things that are intertwined in this film, biker culture and hallucinogenic drugs.

Now Easy Rider is superior to its two predecessors but I don’t think that this movie could have existed without Roger Corman having the foresight to make those other counterculture pictures and paving the way for Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda to write, direct and star in this movie.

The film is a reflection of the time it was in. A time where America was in a state of flux: politically, socially, culturally and artistically. The film really carries a sense of aimlessness and hopelessness with it. It’s a clash of cultures, ideas and displays an American spirit that is tired, lost and without direction or any real inspiration. This is the artistic antithesis of American Exceptionalism.

Now I don’t agree with it but within the context of its time and setting, I understand the sentiment. Frankly, I don’t know where my head would be at in 1969, but I know I’d share some of the same feelings and emotions, especially in regards to the political landscape and the emotional exhaustion caused by the Vietnam War.

I really liked this movie, though. It was magnificently shot. All the scenes of these guys riding cross country were nothing less than beautiful and majestic. I can see why this made people want to sort of adopt the free spirited biker culture into their lives.

And that’s the thing, this film does a fine job romanticizing the freedom of the road but it also shows the side effects of that lifestyle with a heavy handed fist to the head.

My only real issue with the film is the ending. I understand why they did this to end the movie but ultimately, it felt pointless and a bit nonsensical. It came off as edgy just to be edgy. These guys could have met a similar fate without it being some random ass situation that was just thrown in to shock people. For me, it kind of cheapened the overall film. I felt that Hopper was leading towards some sort of larger message but the movie kind of just shits on your emotions and spirit and then just says, “Fuck you!”

Easy Rider is a depressing film. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good or worth your time. It’s a solid piece of filmmaking with a few hiccups I wasn’t too keen on but those hiccups didn’t really detract from the overall sentiment of the picture.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: A couple earlier films that lead to this one even being possible: The Wild Angels and The Trip. Both of those also star Peter Fonda.

Film Review: Village of the Giants (1965)

Release Date: October 20th, 1965
Directed by: Bert I. Gordon
Written by: Bert I. Gordon, Alan Caillou
Based on: The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth by H.G. Wells
Music by: Jack Nitzsche, The Beau Brummels
Cast: Tommy Kirk, Johnny Crawford, Beau Bridges, Joy Harmon, Robert Random, Tisha Sterling, Toni Basil, Ron Howard

Berkeley Productions, Embassy Pictures, Joseph E. Levine Productions, 81 Minutes

Review:

“I’m hungry too. What’s for breakfast?” – Elsa, “Sheriff, on toast.” – Fred

A movie with Ron Howard and Beau Bridges in it that is based off of an H.G. Wells story? Well, at least it sounds good on paper.

This movie was featured in an early Mike Nelson episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and I guess this was one of the few that I have never seen because I would have remembered this bizarre train wreck of pure, unadulterated awesomeness.

These juvenile delinquents that are overly delinquently and dance like cracked out schmucks every chance they get, come into contact with this chemical that makes living things grow to much larger proportions.

However, before we even get a town ravaged by kaiju sized teen douches, we get to see ducks the size of rhinos dancing around in a nightclub. We also get to see one get barbecued, which was kind of sad because a one ton party duck isn’t just something you skewer, set on fire and cover in Sweet Baby Ray’s! These dumb kids could have paraded that duck around from town to town getting lots of money from curious rednecks and baffled farm folk.

This film is terrible but it’s that extraordinary kind of terrible where it has just enough bizarre kookiness to make it pretty unique and quite entertaining. I can’t realistically give this even an average rating but I was charmed by the absurdity of it and for the fact that it is a fun dumb movie. It’s nowhere near as bad as most of the dreck you’ll see on MST3K and if I were to make a list of best movies to watch that were featured by MST3K, this would be high up on that list.

Village of the Giants is stupid but its a stupid you can laugh at and enjoy.