Director: Dennis Hopper
Screenplay: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Terry Southern
Starring: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, Toni Basil
Duration: 95 mins
BBFC Certification: 18
What more is there to say about Easy Rider? An absolute classic, one of the great biker films (not the best, that honour goes to 90s gem, Stone Cold) and the perfect snapshot of the late ‘60s US counter-culture. It is a film that inspired generations of hippies, stoners, musicians and wannabe outlaws. Without Easy Rider, we wouldn’t have Sons Of Anarchy, Vinyl and many other excellent US tv series. I originally discovered the film when I was 18, becoming obsessed with 60s US culture after seeing Oliver Stone’s The Doors. It is a film that has stayed with me to this day, although my mum would never let me have a motorbike (I’m now 43 and she still won’t).
For those that are not familiar with the film, Easy Rider follows two friends, Wyatt (also known as Captain America) and Billy, as they ride from Los Angeles to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. The film opens with them buying cocaine in Mexico, which they then sell to a businessman (played by legendary music producer Phil Spector) to fund their road trip. Along the way they get stoned, trip out on acid and meet a wide range of characters. Late ‘60s America is explored as the film progresses, whether it’s the hippie communes (featuring a cameo from a 4-year-old Bridget Fonda), the prejudicial cops or the narrow minded and violent rednecks. In fact, the film feels like a documentary at times, mainly due to the improvised nature of the acting and the use of some non-actors.
The second half of the film introduces Jack Nicholson as an alcoholic lawyer who accompanies Wyatt and Billy on the trip to New Orleans, mainly to visit a whorehouse he’s always wanted to visit. It’s from this point the film starts to get darker, with a run in with some locals and a literal “bad trip” in a New Orleans graveyard leading to the downbeat ending. It’s almost as if Hopper and Fonda could see the death of the ‘60s and the move into the bleaker ‘70s – remember this was made before the Manson murders and Altamont.
Onto the Blu-ray itself, the 1080p transfer of Laslo Kovacs’ beautiful cinematography is the best yet released, although the colours do seem slightly saturated. The sound is top notch, enhancing the excellent soundtrack (it’s not just Born To Be Wild!) Being a Criterion release, there are plenty of extras which explore the legacy of the film. There are two audio commentaries, one featuring actor-director-writer Dennis Hopper, the other Hopper, actor-writer Peter Fonda, and production manager Paul Lewis. Also included are two very insightful documentaries from the ‘90s, Born To Be Wild and Shaking The Cage with cast and crew providing open and honest accounts of the making of a true classic. There is also archive footage of Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda at the Cannes Film Festival.
Having owned various versions of Easy Rider over the years, I can honestly say that this is the best version yet released.
Easy Rider – The Criterion Collection is being distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.