Friday, July 24, 2009

Easy Rider

Easy Rider is one of those films that if taken on pure mechanical terms might not be considered classically good. It doesn't have a cohesive plot really, and the entire thing is just 90 minutes of riding on motorcycles. But really, when you hit the opening credits, watching Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper riding motorcycles to Born to be Wild, you can almost hear them saying "complaints? What complaints? We're busy redefining cool here!"

The story is simple, Fonda and Hopper - who also directs - sell some drugs to everyone's favorite homicidal music producer Phil Spector. Then, they drive to Mardi Gras on their motorcycles to cool music. On the way, they encounter hippies and hicks and a bunch of other people. It's edited in an interesting way and looks cool.

So, given the first paragraph, you might expect that I don't like this film. And you would be completely...wrong. See, whatever I think of the story, or lack thereof, the movie works anyway, all because of the cool factor. Watching this, I wanted to take a motorbike across the US while doing lots of drugs, and I don't even like motorbikes or drugs. It doesn't hurt that Fonda is impossibly cool in general.

There's another thing that works, the chemistry between Fonda and Hopper. As mentioned previous, Fonda is possibly the coolest person ever, or was at that time. Hopper, by contrast, has got a fidgety charisma that is a nice contrast. He's also rocking the mother of all mustaches. The contrast between the two is one of those film constants that keeps appearing - normal cool guy, wacky sidekick - but this is just more evidence of why it's a cliche, it plain works.

Other people might want to bring up the whole prosecution of people who are different angle, or perhaps the fuzzy moral hidden in the last campfire scene, but the point the film is trying to make wouldn't work without the cool factor. If Hopper and Fonda were driving a VW van across America, people would be less sympathetic to their characters, because they're less enviable. You care about them because you secretly want to be on those motorcycles. When they face prosecution, you care because it's a lifestyle you would really like to have, and every unkind word, closed motel or more violent response punches that dream in the face.

For a film that from all reports was made in a fog of marijuana smoke, it turned into something fantastic, and yet obviously made by people who were stoned throughout shooting. It's got a very loose, very free associative, very not concerned with being cohesive style. Yet, somehow, it works, in spite of all logical counts against it. Even after the downer of an ending, you kind of envy the characters. They're doing something undeniably cool, and whether or not you can do the same, it still manages to be worth watching.

I fully admit to over-using the word cool.

1 comment:

  1. Indeed, could you imagine the movie in modern times with everyone riding Segways to the music of Fallout Boy? The 60's and 70's were simply a better time.