Written by / 1/26/2016 / No comments / , , , , , , , , , ,

HOW TO WATCH DENNIS HOPPER'S COUNTER-CLASSIC 'EASY RIDER'

Two recently late greats Dennis Hopper & Karen Black YEAR: 1969
Guess you cannot argue with PREMIERE magazine. After all, they are... PREMIERE magazine. Supposedly godlike because they are... PREMIERE magazine... Well then, here's a piece written by a cinematic magazine atheist, at least as far as these dolts are concerned. For when the mag had a TOP TEN LIST OF OVERRATED MOVIES, which included, to name just a few, is NASHVILLE and... our subject at hand... EASY RIDER, the latter which also hasn't exactly translated smoothly into the Millennial generation albeit seeming, to particular youngsters, like a hippie music video travelogue...

But let's start off by winning an argument that didn't pan out for yours truly during a yearly shindig when a very important pop culture film historian told a young ears-pricked movie fan that Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper had a falling-out after EASY RIDER became a game-changing smash because Fonda claims he himself directed, or at least, co-directed the film that changed movies for the next decade, leading, at the very end of the psychedelic era, into what was The 1970's Renaissance, giving relatively young directors aka mavericks aka auteurs more power to paint their canvas how they wanted without studio-interference...

Hopper's LAST MOVIE
To counter the myth about "Who directed EASY RIDER," in both of our interviews with RIDER veterans, editor Henry Jaglom and actress Karen Black; the latter who said, among other things: "Dennis Hopper and I improvised… he was very brilliant and he put me in EASY RIDER"... it was beyond-apparent in their particular answers, never prompted by the question, "Who really directed the movie?" but simply related to the making of the film itself, exactly who the director was...

"Bueno!"
For instance, when we praised the incredible editing, Henry Jaglom (initially an actor who decided, after a few roles on GIDGET and THE FLYING NUN, to venture behind the scenes) stated that all his own editing choices were under Hopper's, and not Fonda's, "demands," and in 1977 Jaglom returned the favor: When an unemployed, drug-riddled Hopper was in hiding, films he was cast in Jaglom's anti-Vietnam indie, TRACKS. And if you experience Dennis Hopper's sophomore directorial jinx, THE LAST MOVIE that, like how Orson Welles' convoluted Mr. ARKADIN was described years later as a catastrophe that only a genius could make... And compare THE LAST MOVIE to the more standard and straight-laced yet neatly entertaining anti-Western THE HIRED HAND, the first of three Peter Fonda/Warren Oates collaborations: that was capably directed by Peter Fonda...

Hopper in RIDER
While watching and comparing the directorial style of either film, one (HAND) stands out as a much better, fulfilling story, the other more creative and visually flowing (MOVIE) within the revolutionary rhythmic style and road-romping cadence of EASY RIDER...

In other words, RIDER had one director, and his name was (& still is) Dennis Hopper, which, in order to truly understand the movie itself in the character-department, you really need to ask yourself: "Why is it called EASY RIDER and not EASY RIDERS, plural?" After all, there are two, not just one, dudes on motorcycles who, after buying and selling cocaine in Mexico, take a biker odyssey across America.

Criterion Blu Ray Cover
But Peter Fonda's Wyatt aka Captain America is who the camera is mostly centered on, and his perspective is given more levity for director Dennis Hopper to remain focused and faithful to, and he's the visionary masthead that grounds the baseline, while the scruffy, whining, complaining sidekick in Hopper's underdog Billy carries the film with inside-humor you might have to be "stoned" (which doesn't only relate to pot, and could be booze or simply a lack of sleep) to really comprehend the parenthetical moments...

Like, for instance, when he doesn't trust a hitchhiking hippie, Luke Askew, and/or his group of relatively shallow drama queen gypsy-types at a commune where, at one point, the ultimate nightmare of being paranoid occurs when Askew, who usually plays villains, stops Hopper as he's timidly stumbling over where Fonda's casually and comfortably eating, obscured safely behind a tree, completely unaware of the situation and, while the entire commune's singalong music is suddenly silenced, like the piano player in a Western ducks under his instrument as an unwanted stranger enters the saloon: At this extremely awkward moment, Askew asks Hopper in a nefarious whisper... "Who sent ya?"

Billy don't trust Luke
At which point, the music slowly and eerily sustains as Hopper's Billy walks over to Fonda, sits down, and says, basically, that they gotta get the hell outta there: The humor is based on what we just experienced (and Fonda didn't) along with this seemingly secondary Billy character who is really the leading factor i.e. the pulse of the entire trip...

Like in a scene before the commune, after a subtle, hilarious gas station argument giving Hopper a chance to madly ramble, which would become his signature trademark years later. And when Wyatt, Billy and The Hitchhiker are sitting around a canyon campfire, smoking a joint, Billy politely, and genuinely, asks "Where are you from?" Then the uptight, forced-existential hitchhiking hippie basically shrugs him off, saying it doesn't matter. Wherein Hopper's unpretentious Billy ends the conversation with, "I just wanted to know where you're from, man."

The Riders
Great stuff, and if the PREMIERE magazine staff, who (probably) made their minions add, in the IMDB trivia section: "This is considered one of the most overrated movies of all time by PREMIERE Magazine" as if it really mattered... Or simply to advertise their product... If this is how they do things, both IMDB and PREMIERE should both step back, catch a little buzz, and rewatch RIDER more closely, and listen even closer... tune in, as it were... to what Hopper isn't just showing us in a creative, directorial, aestetic sense... like, for example, jump-cut-forward "flashes" of a watch on the ground, visually representing how time means nothing: to the bikes gliding along the countryside backed by Steppenwolf during the opening credits; and The Byrds, The Byrd's Roger McGuinn, The Band Jimi Hendrix and other great artists: to a nightmarish LSD trip with two Mardi Gras (their ultimate destination) hookers... including Karen Black...

That, merely a few days after the death of scene-stealing Jack Nicholson, who made us forget about Hopper while Hopper made us forget about Fonda, and Fonda who is more the chief representation than an actual Captain in this EXTREMELY FUCKING UNDERRATED classic, if watched correctly... Like any great piece of art, you gotta read between the lines to truly "get it!"
Dennis Hopper director and actor in EASY RIDER, and is the man to be born to follow
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