Easy Rider (1969)

R | 94-95 mins | Drama | 14 July 1969

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HISTORY

In an interview published in the 20 Jul 1969 NYT, Dennis Hopper recalled his first experience directing a scene in the 1967 picture, The Trip (see entry), in which he and Peter Fonda co-starred. Since director Roger Corman had been unwilling to “take the time or spend the money” to shoot acid-trip sequences in the desert, Hopper and Fonda went by themselves to film the scenes with their own money. Inspired to direct more, Hopper teamed with Fonda, but the two were unable to raise money for their own project. After Hopper’s The Glory Stompers (1967, see entry) was released, he and Fonda realized they both had recently appeared in commercially successful motorcycle pictures – Hopper in The Glory Stompers and Fonda in The Wild Angels (1966, see entry) – and decided that financing would be easier to come by if they made a motorcycle film. Hopper claimed that Fonda was struck by the idea for Easy Rider while smoking marijuana and playing guitar late one night, and the two pitched it to executive producer Bert Schneider and his Raybert Productions co-founder, Bob Rafelson. Schneider and Rafelson agreed to fund Easy Rider with an estimated $340,000, privately financed by Schneider according to the 10 Aug 1969 LAT, and Hopper and Fonda were allowed complete creative control.
       Hopper stated in the 20 Jul 1969 NYT that the project drove a wedge between him and his then wife, Brooke Hayward, who did not support the venture and told Hopper he was “going after ‘fool’s gold.’” Hopper was quoted as saying, “Brooke ... More Less

In an interview published in the 20 Jul 1969 NYT, Dennis Hopper recalled his first experience directing a scene in the 1967 picture, The Trip (see entry), in which he and Peter Fonda co-starred. Since director Roger Corman had been unwilling to “take the time or spend the money” to shoot acid-trip sequences in the desert, Hopper and Fonda went by themselves to film the scenes with their own money. Inspired to direct more, Hopper teamed with Fonda, but the two were unable to raise money for their own project. After Hopper’s The Glory Stompers (1967, see entry) was released, he and Fonda realized they both had recently appeared in commercially successful motorcycle pictures – Hopper in The Glory Stompers and Fonda in The Wild Angels (1966, see entry) – and decided that financing would be easier to come by if they made a motorcycle film. Hopper claimed that Fonda was struck by the idea for Easy Rider while smoking marijuana and playing guitar late one night, and the two pitched it to executive producer Bert Schneider and his Raybert Productions co-founder, Bob Rafelson. Schneider and Rafelson agreed to fund Easy Rider with an estimated $340,000, privately financed by Schneider according to the 10 Aug 1969 LAT, and Hopper and Fonda were allowed complete creative control.
       Hopper stated in the 20 Jul 1969 NYT that the project drove a wedge between him and his then wife, Brooke Hayward, who did not support the venture and told Hopper he was “going after ‘fool’s gold.’” Hopper was quoted as saying, “Brooke is groovy, we even have a beautiful little girl, but you don’t say that to me, man, about something I’ve waited 15 years – no, all my life – to do.” The two were officially divorced in 1969. In the settlement, Hopper gave Hayward their house, car, and his art collection in order to keep his share of Easy Rider, which he believed would be successful but had not yet been released.
       Hopper felt it was important that Fonda be the star of the film; thus, Fonda was cast as “Wyatt,” a.k.a. “Captain America,” and Hopper played his sidekick, “Billy.” The two also wrote the screenplay, with the help of novelist Terry Southern. Hopper described the production as scripted but “flexible,” stating, “Except for the Mardi Gras scenes, we just started out on our bikes across the West and shot entirely in sequence, as things happened to us.” He also revealed that the marijuana smoked in the film was real. In the 8 Sep 1968 NYT, Fonda claimed that a “great deal” of the picture was improvised, and Jack Nicholson was quoted in the 28 Aug 1969 LAT as saying, “We’d get up in the morning and not know where we were going to be the next night.” Some scripted scenes Hopper felt adamant about keeping as is, including the nude swimming scene, which Hopper believed would “show the over-40 crowd that it is possible to play like innocent children in the nude without getting into sex.”
       Rip Torn was initially cast in the role of “George Hanson,” according to the 28 Aug 1969 LAT, but Nicholson stated that “something happened” and he was asked to replace him. Torn’s unavailability may have been due to his participation in Norman Mailer’s Maidstone (1971, see entry), shot in Jun 1968, in which Torn notoriously hit Mailer with a hammer in what was alleged to be a surprise, improvised attack before the cameras. When Nicholson was recruited to replace Torn, he went immediately to meet Fonda and Hopper in Taos, NM, and later regretted that he did not have more time to work on his Texan accent. In scenes depicting rural and small-town America, two real-life farmers and other local, non-professional actors were used. One such scene took place at a café near Baton Rouge, LA, where Hopper prepared the diners for their roles as bigots by asking them to assume Wyatt, Billy, and George Hanson were arriving at the café after having raped some “Southern maidens.” In depicting the hostility that these small-town denizens showed the main characters, Hopper and Fonda drew from their own experiences as “longhairs” travelling across rural America.
       An item in the 21 Feb 1968 DV announced that Fonda was travelling to New Orleans, LA, to “launch” the picture. The following week, a 16mm shoot took place on 27 Feb 1968 at the actual Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans. Principal photography began months later, sometime in May or early Jun 1968. Although a production chart in the 12 Jul 1968 DV listed a start date of 6 Jun 1968, a conflicting report in the 5 Jun 1968 Var stated that location shooting in Taos had been completed two days earlier. Likewise, a 7 Jun 1968 LAT brief noted that a parade sequence had been shot the previous week in Las Vegas, NM. Following New Mexico locations, filmmakers moved on to shooting in Texas.
       After filming was completed, Columbia Pictures purchased worldwide distribution rights for $350,000, as announced in the 8 Sep 1968 NYT and 31 Oct 1968 DV. The picture debuted on 13 May 1969 at the Cannes Film Festival, where it played in competition. Other festival appearances followed at the Taormina Film Festival in Italy, and the Edinburg Film Festival in Scotland, the 27 Aug 1969 Var noted. Following the Cannes screening, the 14 May 1969 Var review called Easy Rider a “perceptive film” with a “literate and incisive” script. Hopper received the Cannes award for a director’s first film, although, as pointed out in the 15 Jul 1969 NYT, only one other picture was in competition in that category. Despite mostly positive reception at the festival, Easy Rider was initially banned from theatrical release by French censors, according to the 18 Jun 1969 Var. A follow-up in the 26 Jun 1969 DV noted that edits had been made and the decision had been reversed. Meanwhile, it received an “X” certificate from the British Film Censors, whereas Fonda and Hopper’s previous film, The Trip, had been banned altogether in England due to its depiction of drug use.
       Reviews were generally positive, although Vincent Canby’s critique in the 15 Jul 1969 NYT lambasted the script and performances, with the exception of Jack Nicholson, whom Canby deemed “so good, in fact, that ‘Easy Rider’ never recovers from his loss.” The 18 Jun 1968 Var stated that the picture had received some backlash at Cannes, from people who believed it “gave a distorted view of the U.S. and could be used as anti-American propaganda.” Fonda maintained that Easy Rider had no political slant, having previously described it in the 21 Feb 1968 DV as “a story about today, about today – and America.” High praise for the film was expressed the 1 Aug 1969 Vogue review, and the 10 Aug 1969 LAT review, which called Hopper’s directorial debut “an astonishing work of art” and stated, “If there is an American New Wave, film historians may well one day cite ‘Easy Rider’ as early evidence of it.”
       The movie became an overwhelming box-office success, taking in $7.2 million in film rentals in its first year of release, according to the 7 Jan 1970 Var. As of mid-Sep 1970, Bert Schneider claimed in a 16 Sep 1970 Var interview that gross earnings had reached $20 million. The soundtrack album, released by Dunhill Records, also sold well, as noted in a 13 May 1970 Var chart, which listed it in twelfth position on the best-selling albums chart after thirty weeks in release.
       Academy Award nominations went to Jack Nicholson for Actor in a Supporting Role, and to Fonda, Hopper, and Southern for Writing (Story and Screenplay—based on material not previously published or produced). Nicholson received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture, and the film was chosen as “picture of the year” by the Show-A-Rama XII exhibitors’ convention, to be held in Kansas City, MO, in Mar 1970, as stated in the 25 Feb 1970 Var. At the event, Fonda and Schneider were also to receive “producers of the year” honors, while Nicholson was named “new male discovery of the year.”
       On 18 Nov 1970, a news brief in DV announced that Peter Fonda had been sued by his talent agent at Creative Management Associates (CMA), who accused the actor of breaking his three-year contract with CMA by diverting funds and would-be commission to his production entity, The Pando Company. CMA demanded ten percent of Fonda’s earnings on Easy Rider and requested a full accounting of the film.
       In 2010, a digital restoration of Easy Rider was released on Blu-Ray and DVD as part of a Criterion Collection seven-film box set titled “America Lost and Found: The BBS Story,” a compendium of pictures produced by Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider, and Steve Blauner, who was their partner in BBS Productions. The 21 Nov 2010 NYP listed the following six films as the others included in the box set: Five Easy Pieces (1970, see entry); The Last Picture Show, Drive, He Said, and A Safe Place (1971, see entries); Head (1968, see entry); and The King of Marvin Gardens (1972, see entry).
       Easy Rider was ranked 84th on AFI's 2007 100 Years...100 Movies--10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films, up from the 88th position on AFI's 1997 list. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
21 Feb 1968
p. 2.
Daily Variety
12 Jul 1968
p. 8.
Daily Variety
31 Oct 1968
p. 3.
Daily Variety
15 May 1969.
---
Daily Variety
26 Jun 1969
p. 1.
Daily Variety
19 Aug 1969
p. 3.
Daily Variety
18 Nov 1970
p. 1.
Film Daily
18 Jul 1969
p. 6.
Film Quarterly
Fall 1969
pp. 22-24.
Filmfacts
1969
pp. 265-69.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Jun 1969
p. 3.
Life
Jul 1969.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
2 Aug 1969.
---
Los Angeles Times
7 Jun 1968
Section G, p. 13.
Los Angeles Times
28 May 1969
Section D, p. 16.
Los Angeles Times
12 Jul 1969
Section A, p. 7.
Los Angeles Times
28 Jul 1969
Section C, p. 19.
Los Angeles Times
10 Aug 1969
Section P, p. 1, 16, 21.
Los Angeles Times
28 Aug 1969
Section E, p. 1, 19.
New York Post
21 Nov 2010
p. 48.
New York Times
8 Sep 1968
Section D, p. 29.
New York Times
15 Jul 1969
p. 32.
New York Times
20 Jul 1969
Section D, p. 11, 16.
New York Times
27 Jul 1969
Section II, p. 1.
New York Times
3 Aug 1969
Section D, p. 13.
Time
25 Jul 1969.
---
Variety
5 Jun 1968
p. 18.
Variety
14 May 1969
p. 6.
Variety
18 Jun 1969
p. 30.
Variety
27 Aug 1969
p. 3.
Variety
7 Jan 1970
p. 15.
Variety
25 Feb 1970
p. 7.
Variety
13 May 1970
p. 54.
Variety
16 Sep 1970
p. 6.
Vogue
1 Aug 1969.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Asst cam
Key grip
Still man
Best boy
Generator
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATOR
Prop master
MUSIC
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Titles
MAKEUP
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Consultant
Scr supv
Loc mgr
Transportation
STAND INS
Stunt gaffer
COLOR PERSONNEL
SOURCES
SONGS
"The Pusher," words and music by Hoyt Axton, sung by Steppenwolf
"Born To Be Wild," words and music by Mars Bonfire, sung by Steppenwolf
"I Wasn't Born To Follow," words and music by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, sung by The Byrds
+
SONGS
"The Pusher," words and music by Hoyt Axton, sung by Steppenwolf
"Born To Be Wild," words and music by Mars Bonfire, sung by Steppenwolf
"I Wasn't Born To Follow," words and music by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, sung by The Byrds
"The Weight," words and music by Jaime Robbie Robertson, sung by The Band
"If You Want to Be a Bird," words and music by Antonia Duren, sung by The Holy Modal Rounders
"Don't Bogart Me," words and music by Elliot Ingber and Larry Jay Wagner, sung by Fraternity of Man
"If Six Was Nine," words and music by Jimi Hendrix, sung by Jimi Hendrix
"Let's Turkey Trot," words and music by Gerry Goffin and Jack Keller, sung by Little Eva
"Kyrie Eleison," words and music by David Axelrod, sung by The Electric Prunes
"Flash, Bam, Pow," words and music by Mike Bloomfield, sung by the Electric Flag
"Its Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," words and music by Bob Dylan, sung by Roger McGuinn and "Ballad of Easy Rider," words and music by Roger McGuinn, sung by Roger McGuinn.
+
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The Easy Rider
Release Date:
14 July 1969
Premiere Information:
Cannes Film Festival screening: 13 May 1969
New York opening: 14 July 1969
Los Angeles opening: 13 August 1969
Production Date:
Marchdi Gras filmed on 27 February 1968
principal photography began May or early June 1968
Copyright Claimant:
Raybert Productions, Inc.
Copyright Date:
1 July 1969
Copyright Number:
LP36999
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
94-95
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
22175
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

At an airstrip near the California-Mexico border, Wyatt and Billy, two motorcyclists, sell a large quantity of cocaine to a pusher who handles the transaction from his chauffered Rolls Royce. Once Wyatt (who is called "Captain America" because of the stars and stripes on his jacket and bike) has concealed the cash in his cycle's gas tank, the two young men ride off, vaguely intending to reach New Orleans, Louisiana, in time for Mardi Gras. Unwelcome at motels because of their nonconformist appearance, they camp outdoors and smoke marijuana until they fall asleep. After stopping at a ranch where they repair their bikes and join the rancher and his Mexican wife for a meal, they pick up a hitchhiker and accompany him to the commune where he lives. Despite the friendliness of the people working the barren soil and a pleasant swim with two women, Billy becomes impatient to leave, and the two once more take to the road. Upon arriving in a Texas town, where a civic celebration is in progress, Wyatt and Billy join the procession and are jailed for "parading without a permit." Sharing their cell is alcoholic George Hanson, a civil rights lawyer who prefers sleeping off his binges in jail to facing the wrath of his wealthy father, one of the town leaders. A quick camaraderie develops among the three men; George intercedes and prevents jail officials from giving the two traditional haircuts, and he accepts their invitation to ride with them, mainly because he has always wanted to visit the House of Blue Lights in New Orleans. One night while sitting around a fire, George smokes his first joint and joyfully elucidates his ... +


At an airstrip near the California-Mexico border, Wyatt and Billy, two motorcyclists, sell a large quantity of cocaine to a pusher who handles the transaction from his chauffered Rolls Royce. Once Wyatt (who is called "Captain America" because of the stars and stripes on his jacket and bike) has concealed the cash in his cycle's gas tank, the two young men ride off, vaguely intending to reach New Orleans, Louisiana, in time for Mardi Gras. Unwelcome at motels because of their nonconformist appearance, they camp outdoors and smoke marijuana until they fall asleep. After stopping at a ranch where they repair their bikes and join the rancher and his Mexican wife for a meal, they pick up a hitchhiker and accompany him to the commune where he lives. Despite the friendliness of the people working the barren soil and a pleasant swim with two women, Billy becomes impatient to leave, and the two once more take to the road. Upon arriving in a Texas town, where a civic celebration is in progress, Wyatt and Billy join the procession and are jailed for "parading without a permit." Sharing their cell is alcoholic George Hanson, a civil rights lawyer who prefers sleeping off his binges in jail to facing the wrath of his wealthy father, one of the town leaders. A quick camaraderie develops among the three men; George intercedes and prevents jail officials from giving the two traditional haircuts, and he accepts their invitation to ride with them, mainly because he has always wanted to visit the House of Blue Lights in New Orleans. One night while sitting around a fire, George smokes his first joint and joyfully elucidates his theory that creatures from Venus are already living among us. The next day the three travelers stop at a small luncheonette but leave when confronted by open hostility and bigotry. That night they are attacked at their camp site by thugs who pummel George to death and leave Wyatt and Billy badly beaten. Incapable of voicing their feelings, Wyatt and Billy pay tribute to George by riding on to New Orleans and visiting the House of Blue Lights. Finding that neither the prostitutes nor the Mardi Gras festivities can overcome their moroseness, they go to a nearby cemetery to take LSD with two of the prostitutes. When the acid trip turns out to be a bad one that leaves Wyatt and Billy more despondent than before, they take to the highways again. Though Billy suggests they change direction and head for Florida, Wyatt senses the futility of continuing. The next morning they are passed on the road by two men in a pickup truck who decide to scare the two longhairs by pointing a shotgun at them. When Billy responds with a gesture of defiance, one of the men fires a shot that hits him in the stomach. After trying to reassure his dying friend, Wyatt leaps on his cycle to ride off for help, but the truck has turned back, and this time the man with the gun takes deliberate aim and blasts Wyatt and his motorcycle off the road. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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