Dennis Hopper’s 1969 counterculture classic is packed with drugs, freedom, the open road, and Jack Nicholson…
Today’s Lockdown Rewatch is accidental blockbuster Easy Rider – independently produced by, and starring, Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda with Hopper pulling double-duty as director. The 1969 classic is the definitive American counterculture film – Easy Rider helped usher in the New Hollywood era of filmmaking outside the studio system, popularised the use of a licensed soundtrack, and pushed Jack Nicholson into the acting big leagues (he was deservedly nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards). The film was made on a miniscule $400,000 budget and raked in $60 million worldwide – not bad for a fringe indie flick about hippies smuggling drugs. A cultural phenomenon, the film was no doubt responsible for countless people catching a breeze on their newly bought bikes… sadly those used in the film were either destroyed on set, or stolen before the wrap party.
But did you know…
1) Terry Southern wrote the film after Hopper and Fonda approached him with the idea, it was after seeing first screenings of the film they requested screenwriting credits, based on their contributions through improvisation. Southern convinced the WGA to approve their credits. Hopper claimed in a 2001 interview that Southern, “never wrote one fucking word” and, “only the title Easy Rider came from him.” Fonda and Hopper also fell out so catastrophically over money that even after forty years Fonda was refused entry to his former collaborator’s funeral in 2010.
2) The film was one of the first to use pre-recorded music as a score, rather than hire a composer to produce one. Hopper said he wanted the film to function as a reflection of its times. “I wanted Easy Rider to be kind of a time capsule for that period, so while I was editing the film I would listen to the radio. That’s where I got ‘Born to Be Wild’ and ‘The Pusher’ and all those songs.”
3) Easy Rider’s ending was originally planned to tease a much brighter future for Wyatt and Billy. “The initial idea had to do with a couple of young guys who are fed up with the system, want to make one big score, and split,” Southern said. “Using the money to buy a boat in Key West and sail into the sunset…” Spoiler: that doesn’t happen.