Rewatching <I>Easy Rider</i>Complications Ensue
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Sunday, June 03, 2012

Lisa and I watched EASY RIDER, which I hadn't seen in, well, a long time.

I remembered the basic idea: a couple of longhairs on motorcycles ride through the South. They get a lot of flak from the inhabitants of Nixonland, who treat them like they're a couple of dope dealers out to corrupt America.

Oddly, I'd forgotten the very beginning of the movie, where they make a bunch of money smuggling cocaine into the US. So, I realize, they are a couple of dope dealers. Which puts a different spin on the reaction of all the buzz cuts to these bikers that I remember so well. Yes, the buzz cuts are leaping to assumptions, sometimes with inhumane violence and prejudice. On the other hand, their assumptions are correct.

I looked up Vincent Canby's review:
Nicholson is so good, in fact, that "Easy Rider" never quite recovers from his loss, even though he has had the rather thankless job of spelling out what I take to be the film's statement (upper case). This has to do with the threat that people like the nonconforming Wyatt and Billy represent to the ordinary, self-righteous, inhibited folk that are the Real America. Wyatt and Billy, says the lawyer, represent freedom; ergo, says the film, they must be destroyed.
Yep. No mention of their being serious criminals. Nor in Gene Moskowitz's Variety review.

Is it that drugs don't seem quite as fluffy and adorable as they did when I grew up? Is it that I'm older and wiser, to the point where I can see the degree to which the bikers are being provocative wherever they go, even if the reaction they provoke is excessive?

I guess it's a mark of honor that the film can read so differently at any age, while still feeling emotionally truthful. I remember reading that a man should read Don Quixote three times in order to understand it: as a young man, as a middle aged man, and as an old man. A more polemical movie might not hold up so well.

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