Easy Rider
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Easy Rider

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AFI Top 100 List (88)

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When the American Film Institute came up with their list of the top one hundred films, Easy Rider came in at number 88. While this may not seem impressive, 88 out of 100, you have to consider the thousands of films that did not make this list and the company Easy Rider was in just being on the list. It is truly one of the greatest films of all time. It is a film that spoke to a generation lost in the transition between the sixties and the seventies, a generation trying to find itself. The movie has a simple plot. Two men make a drug deal, make a lot of money, buy Harley motorcycles and set out cross country to try to make Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The tale of their journey is now part of American culture and we are richer for it. The film was written by Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Terry Southern ( of the naughty book, Candy, fame).

The two main characters are Wyatt (Peter Fonda) also know as Captain America because of his American flag leather jacket and red white and blue gas tank on his Harley. There is also Billy, played by Dennis Hopper. Wyatt is the more introspective of the pair. He is always reflecting on something that is so deep he often doesn’t even share it with the audience. Wyatt, on the other hand, is more carefree. Between the pair the time period is perfectly displayed. There are those that truly care about the causes and those just having a good time. Added to this is the ancillary cast, the most well remember of which is George Hanson (Jack Nicholson), a small town drunk and lawyer. The scene of them sitting around the campfire at night is one of the scenes many of us will remember forever.

Almost used, as another cast member is the soundtrack. This was one of the first films to really integrate a rock soundtrack into the story. The tunes may seem out of date to some of the younger viewers but they do represent the time they came from. Steppenwolf’s ‘Born to be Wild’ became an anthem of freedom and expression because of this film. I used to listen to these songs on a little portable record player (records, those 12" black vinyl discs we used to use before CDs) in my dorm room in college. Now, thanks to Dolby 5.1 remix, the songs take on a new life in true, full surround sound. Even the younger viewers that never heard many of these songs before will be impressed with what were the roots of modern music and how it flows through the story.

The director, Dennis Hopper made his freshman effort in this movie. Although Hopper had mad many movies as an actor by this time, he had never director. There are some amateurish parts to the direction but rather than detract from the film they simply add to the almost ‘cinema veritae’ feel the film provides. In the commentary Hopper states he wanted to make the first American art film. He goes into the European influences he had and into the why and how he did what he did. This provides an excellent companion for this hallmark film. There was one scene early on that is so subtle and yet so powerful. The bikers have a flat and ask a rancher to use his barn to fix it. He agrees and you have a scene where two ranchers are shoeing a horse in the foreground while two men fix a flat on cycle in the background. This movie abounds with contrasts like this.

The disc is excellent. Transfers to DVD for modern movies should be this good. The picture is anamorphic widescreen in 1:1.85 aspect ratio. The sound is a remix Dolby 5.1. While there is little in special sound effects, the ambience of the open road is genuinely presented. The special features include a Making of featurette and interviews with the principles. Not only is it on the AFI’s list of best movies, it will be on yours as well.

 

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