“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
“I mean, it’s real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace.”
The downside of this AFI countdown is that I’m gonna have to re-watch a few movies that I’ve seen before and don’t like all that much. I’m really not looking forward to slogging my way through 2001: A Space Odyssey again sometime in October or November. But the fact that they’ve made this AFI list means I know that they’re important, and even if I don’t like them, I should probably give them another chance and figure out why I don’t like them. I think this might have been my third viewing of Easy Rider in about 15 years. I didn’t get it on previous viewings, and I still don’t get it now.
Wyatt (Peter Fonder) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) buy a heap of super pure cocaine in Mexico. Taking it north of the border, they sell it on for the kind of profit that means they can hit the road on their awesome motorbikes and not worry about money for a while. On their way to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, they pick up a hippy hitchhiker and end up staying at his commune for a little while. While Wyatt seems open to new people and new experiences, Billy is distrustful of everyone and paranoid that the money hidden in Wyatt’s petrol tank is easy pickings for everyone who comes their way.
Arrested in a small town where the locals don’t take kindly to long haired hippies on flashy motorbikes, they meet and befriend George (Jack Nicholson), a drunk Civil Liberties Union lawyer. He helps get Wyatt and Billy released and decides to head to New Orleans on the back of Wyatt’s chopper. Pontificatingly contemplating the meaning of life, George’s ramblings give the second half of Easy Rider its few really entertaining moments.
Here’s what I don’t like about Easy Rider, it’s a mess. Fonder and Hopper didn’t write a script, they just went on this road trip, made up the story as they went along and filmed whatever random shit popped into their drug addled brains. And because of that, there’s no real structure or substance to their movie. More than that, it’s just not very well made. The camera work is amateur and awkward, the editing is the worst kind of pretentious, and Wyatt and Billy are so undefined as characters, it’s impossible to give a shit about them. And for a movie that’s barely 90 minutes long, it still finds way to drag.
Maybe it’s an age thing. Maybe you have to have lived through the 60s to get these characters and relate to their lives. Maybe it’s a cultural thing and I just don’t understand these people and the townsfolk they meet on the way. Whatever it is, in the end, I found Easy Rider even more infuriating than I remembered. I know it helped redefine cinema and lead to the amazing decade of film making that was the 70s, but I hope I never have to sit through it again.
Best Original Screenplay (nominated, lost to William Goldman for Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid)
Best Supporting Actor (Nicholson nominated, lost to Gig Young for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?)