Containing Multitudes Since 2004
There's a scene in Getting Straight where a Chicano college student sees the world anew after reading Don Quixote. The problem with Getting Straight is its narrow topicality and political consciousness. The appeal of a work like Don Quixote owes to the universality and timelessness of dreams, however mad they may be. Dylan's topical songs haven't dated well either. But his personal music are as fresh as ever. Easy Rider has both topical and timeless qualities. The topical elements have dated rather badly. Who cares about hippies or the counterculture anymore? But the timeless appeal remains. Every generation has its share of young men who 'seek meaning' and go on a quest. The appeal of the Graduate, Midnight Cowboy, and Deliverance owes something to that side of us--as with Into the Wild by Sean Penn. Dustin Hoffman turns into a knight in shining armor pursuing the damsel in distress. Joe Buck seeks paradise in NY as stud #1. Four suburban men seek to regain unfettered manhood in the wilderness away from the burden of domesticity. In Easy Rider, the quest is more questionable because it's about two biker dope-peddlers who have nothing specific in mind--even less so than the young 'couple' in Zabriskie Point. It's a quest without an object of the quest. Road itself becomes the quest. Off the road, they are sharks drowning when not swimming. And despite their 'freedom', they depend on buying and selling drugs. As Albert Brooks said in Lost in America, the guys had a 'nest-egg' from selling cocaine. Fonda is like Don Quixote, Hopper is like Sancho. (The redneck are the least convincing thing in the movie, atleast from a dramatic perspective. In a film like THX 1138, freedom has meaning because it's so rare and precious in a totalitarian society. In contrast, despite some small town pettiness in some locals, the least of the problem of the two bikers is lack of freedom. They are free to roam around in a free country selling drugs and attending festivals. Even their arrest was due to interrupting a local parade. With all that freedom, they are aimless and directionless, mostly going around selling and doing drugs. It seems the redneck stuff was added in to lend them a tragic element of martyrdom they don't really deserve. Otoh, their deaths are so 'cool' and 'far out', thus unforgettable. Rednecks are the Roman soldiers who turn them into instant christs.)Though sometimes called a hippie movie, the two leads are not hippies. They are biker nomads who bump into hippies who, though portrayed sympathetically, are not idealized. They seem grubby and confused. The most positively portrayed characters are the Anglo rancher and his Mexican wife and family. There's suggestion that Fonda and Hopper are like modern cowboys. But as with Joe Buck, the old west is is bygone myth. If anything, the bikers, like Joe Buck, traveling from west to east. Some of the stylistic tics now seem mannered and show-offy. Much of the film is sloppy. It's also disingenuous in being narcissistically anti-narcissistic, i.e. 'we blew it(but we sure look cool blowing it)'. But the road scenes scored with some of the best songs of the era still pack a punch. And Nicholson was great, Fonda looked very cool, and Hopper was sort of 'groovy'. As for Last Movie, it should be called Bring Me the Head of Dennis Hopper. Great idea but terrible lazy execution... like Peckinpah's headcheese movie.
Enjoying this series.
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