March 7, 2011: This is getting more and more confusing ...
Those of you who've passionately followed my Blah-ugh! -- (meaning the two of you sitting toward the back) -- will, of course, remember the FFF -- a popular (and copywritten) featurette we've sadly neglected revisiting for far too long. For the rest of you (meaning you other three), I thought it might be enjoyable to spill a sampling of my astute (albeit churlish) observations where the magic of movies is concerned and watch as you once again find yourself marveling (perhaps even aloud), "Why do I read this stupid thing?!"
Actually, my inspiration to talk about Easy Rider comes from a Byrds' song I was just listening to over and over again in my car this afternoon (which actually appears twice in the movie -- the song, I mean, not my car) called "Wasn't Born To Follow," which I knew wasn't written by Roger McGuinn (whose original name wasn't Roger but Jim ((and, for all we know, might very well not really be named McGuinn either))), but instead was written by Carol King (of all people) and Gerry Goffin (whoever the hell he is). I simply think the song is brilliant, at least performed by the Byrds. (Who knows what kind of mess Carol might have made of it with that warbly voice of hers.) But part of what made it so brilliant to me was this lovely, genius last line, which ends, "... She will argue with her logic, and mention all the things I've learned that really have no value; in the end she will surely know I wasn't born to follow." ... BUT, when I researched the song to find out the writers (like the fair, unbiased Blah-ugh! reporter I am) I was shocked, depressed disillusioned and just plain annoyed to discover that the line is "mention all the things I'D LOSE." Now doesn't that suck!? How am I supposed to find inspiration in that song NOW, knowing that instead of being a righteous 1960s anthem extolling otherness and the drug-induced Buddha mind (and I'm sure I'll be hearing from Mr. Heinz on that one!), the song's just another love sick-inspired example of Carol King's anger toward men ...
But in the end, that's neither here nor there, for the movie was what I wanted to spew about -- that classic bit of cult cinema directed (and starring) the late Dennis Hopper, showcasing the cross-country travels (and travails) of a couple of hippie/druggies, and also starring the lovingly benign Peter Fonda, who delivers some of the most magical cinematic lines in history, including "I'm hip to time" and "It gives you a whole new way of looking at the day."
Never has a film so perfectly captured the remarkably distinct fear of a quintessential bad-vibe pot moment as when Hopper and Fonda sit smoking with the great Luke Askew around the campfire in the desert night:
Hopper: Hey, man. Where ya from?
Askew: A city ...
Hopper: I just wanna know where yer from, man.
And never has the south been so accurately portrayed as when the rednecks start shooting the L.A. hippies. It's poigniant (though I can never spell that) and almost documentriacal (I think I spelled that right). (You southerners out there know what I'm talking about ... Be honest!)
And the use of the Byrds' music is brilliant, and that very song appears twice -- once when they pick up Askew hitchhiking, then later when they go swimming with the girls.
Unfortunately, as wonderful a movie as it is -- though not necessarily a particularly good one, because really it's awfully cheesy and kind of pretentious and vaguely incoherent all at once -- that swimming scene is most startling because you see how Peter Fonda's power is completely taken away when he's stripped of his Captain America jacket and you have to view him perched up on that stone wall, naked, with his sunken druggie's eyes and mad mutton chops. That's the most acute moment of commentary on the 60s drug culture -- despite the romance of cross-country cruising and American flag regalia, at the end of the druggie day, illicit consumption makes all of us -- men and women -- look like naked Peter Fondas!