“Before 1969, there were no real independent filmmakers in America. Easy Rider changed all that.” Writer/ director/ star Dennis Hopper may be biased, but it’s hard to dispute his claim to Easy Rider’ s role in changing the face of American filmmaking. The film was one of the surprise box office hits of 1969, although what’s even more surprising is that it ever got made.
Hopper and Peter Fonda both had reputations for being difficult to work with (Hopper had once been blacklisted following a fight with director Henry Hathaway) and the film’s simple storyline – two hippies hit the road bound for New Orleans and ‘freedom’ on motorbikes bought from the proceeds of a drug deal – wasn’t exactly commercial. Luckily, they found a fledgling producer, Bert Schneider, willing to fund their movie. Armed with Schneider’s $365,000 and a script developed from Fonda’s original idea (“I was lying on the bed looking at a picture of Marlon Brando in his Wild One get-up. And then it came to me: a modern Western, set on motorbikes”), things began inauspiciously when the crucial Mardi Gras scene had to be shot on 16mm because the film crew weren’t ready. Things didn’t get any easier when the crew hit the road. Fonda, playing Wyatt (aka Captain America), and Hopper, who plays his sidekick, Billy, both fell off their motorbikes several times, with Fonda breaking three ribs at one point.
Despite having a “ruined” movie, Hopper took Easy Rider to the Cannes Festival, where he won the prize for Best Film by a New Director. The film became one of the first to address a new generation of cinema-goers, depicting the flipside of the American dream and the difficulties of pursuing personal freedom. The film also launched the career of Jack Nicholson, hitherto known only as a bit-part player in B-movies. His Southern liberal lawyer character, George Hanson, remains one of the actor’s finest creations, although how he achieved such a memorable performance is yet another of the film’s mysteries. “One night, me and Dennis dropped acid on the tomb of DH Lawrence. We talked about art and friendship and what was going on in society. The next morning, I woke up on top of a 40ft tree. I have no idea how I got up there!”
Cast: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Antonio Mendoza, Phil Spector, Jack Nicholson, Luke Askew, Karen Black, Toni Basil, Mac Mashourian, Warren Finnerty, Tita Colorado, Luana Anders, Sabrina Scharf, Sandy Brown Wyeth, Robert Walker, Jr., Robert Ball, Carmen Phillips, Ellie Wood Walker
Director: Dennis Hopper
Writers: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Terry Southern
Producer: Peter Fonda, William Hayward
Director of Photography: László Kovács
Production Companies: Columbia Pictures, Raybert Productions, Pando Company Inc.
Release Date: 7 May 1969
Running Time: 95 minutes
Genres: Adventure, Drama
Country: United States of America
Tagline: A man went looking for America and couldn’t find it anywhere…
Budget and Box Office takings where known