Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969) -- C

Attempting to explain cultural alienation via privileged narcissism, Dennis Hopper's iconic Easy Rider now plays less like a tightly wound expression of youthful catharsis, and more a simplistic, disingenuous tirade against all things establishment. Traveling from LA to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, young free wheelers Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) live out the ultimate adolescent dream: life on the road. Stopping city to city and running into trouble, women, drugs, and rednecks, the depiction of American life (and people) is concurrent with modern-day Hollywood standards (now you know where they got it from). The "big" city boys get to travel to places with "wierdo hicks" as Billy states it, lamenting with fellow youth that "America used to be a helluva good country." Naturally, the South is where they meet trouble (and ultimately their demise - that's right - they are actually killed by rednecks). The film's travelogue format (with nearly half a dozen biking interludes, tunes blasting) and glossed-over characterizations makes it hard to take any of the more contemplative elements seriously, especially a late montage of Catholic religious guilt/sexual dalliances. That the film is capped off by an act of martyrdom makes it that much easier to dismiss its sincerity (especially coming from Hollywood royalty in Fonda). It's akin to something like Brokeback Mountain, a warmed-over bit of agitprop digestible for a (liberal) mainstream audience, and thus containing no real bite or irreverence.

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