The namesake of this blog, Andrew, once told me that the band Coldplay “is good at what they do.” At the time, I didn’t grasp the irony of his statement. Now I blush when I recall that conversation. Easy Rider, for what it is, is just about perfect; but that’s a statement void of any irony.
A scene early in the film has Wyatt and Billy acting as drug-dealing middlemen between some Mexican dudes and some “highbrow” customers. That niche that the characters fill embodies not only them, but also Hopper and Fonda as filmmakers at the time: no home, unwelcome anywhere, neither high nor low. The first of many scenes of the two men riding hogs sets the film’s mood: free-ridin’, groovin’ to rock ‘n roll (in this case “Born To Be Wild”), and not so much “breaking” the 180° rule as shattering it. László Kovács’ handheld-feeling cinematography must have been fairly novel, at least for a film that turned out to be somewhat mainstream. The flash-editing had a violent effect, but certainly should be lauded for its apparent originality. Sound in the film was subservient to the soundtract, often with diegetic sound cutting out completely to make way for the music. Most of the first half of the film is outdoors, contributing to the free-as-a-bird feel. As the two men approach their demise, they are found indoor or shrouded more often. Accompanying the outdoor scenes are wide-open shots of very big scenery.
The film did well to portray Wyatt and Billy as embodying something of America itself – in a class of its own, and individualistic and yet welcoming to all. Wyatt’s bike, helmet, and jacket even bear the flag, just as his nickname “Captain America” confirms his identification with the USA. The boys also illustrate the impossibility of their own way of life. It’s not that their dream was a failure, but that the world wasn’t ready for them. That Hopper and Fonda’s film not only was realized but also succeeded is an interesting point in relation to the film’s story.
Some have no doubt commented on this being an example of the “buddy movie” that feminist film theory has pointed out. The woman who appear in the film could be seen as obligatory and empty, yet the males’ attachment to one another fills the feminine void. Billy and George (Jack Nicholson) become darn-near cuddly by the fire after their initially tense encounter in prison. Though not quite on par with Top Gun‘s shamelessly gay volleyball scene, Easy Rider certainly contains what could be seen as some guy-on-guy action. Wyatt and Billy nearly acknowledge as much when, after George’s beating, they visit the whorehouse he told them about and used his credit card. “He would’ve wanted us to,” Billy tells Wyatt, who quietly wonders as to the ethics of what they’re about to do. But of course, nothing happens in the whorehouse, and they leave to go goof off with the girls at Mardi Gras. The following acid-trip scene was painful to watch, not so much because of the drug aspect as Peter Fonda’s very real confession to his dead mother: “I hate you so much…”
It seemed to me that the jump cuts (certainly less than a 30° camera shift) near the film’s end while the boys are riding correspond with their imminent fate. After the deed is done, the camera immediately detaches and floats up into the sky in a way antithetical of the beginning scene of Fellini’s 8½. Finally disconnected from its subjects, the camera flies away, for the first time giving a God’s-eye view of the scenery that was heretofore only seen from the boys’ point-of-view.