A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1969 – Easy Rider

Just try to say this isn’t the most representative film of 1969. Go ahead.

It’s impossible. Believe me. I tried.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a nice choice, but no. Doesn’t represent 1969 as much as it’s a timeless classic. Representative of 1969 for the western (but so is The Wild Bunch, which…), but not so much for 1969 the year in film. Midnight Cowboy… close, but it’s no Easy Rider. Technically you can say Hello, Dolly! Or Paint Your Wagon represents 1969, but the reasons for that would be depressing.

And with major props to They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and Alice’s Restaurant (do people even remember that movie?), you can’t deny Easy Rider as the film of 1969. Just ask anyone who lived through it.

It’s a counterculture film, which is exactly what the 70s were for filmmaking. And it’s about two guys riding motorcycles, doing drugs and listening to music. That’s it. That’s the movie. The soundtrack is awesome. Just try not to sway along when “The Weight” comes on.

This is a movie that’s about the culture at the time. Free spirits and people who don’t understand them, and people who are fascinated by them. (If Woodstock came out in 1969 and not 1970, that would have been the choice. But this is a good alternative.)

The film is so free flowing and doesn’t care at all about film style. Hopper and Fonda actually went out with cameras and just shot endless amounts of footage. They had some crazy ratio of what they shot versus what they used. And then there’s that great editing technique they uses where they flash back and forth between the end of the current scene and the beginning of the next scene a few times before they move on.

Plus, they actually were on drugs when they made it. Hopper was drinking something like a quart of bourbon a day, and all scenes where they take acid or smoke weed were done with real drugs. And then you throw in Nicholson. How great is he in this?

This was the third-highest grossing movie of 1969, and was a huge phenomenon. It really kicked off the era of New Hollywood. There was the transitional period in 1968, but this kicked it off. Bonnie and Clyde broke the barrier, and this film led the charge over the threshold, and led the way for all the great films that would come after this over the next decade.


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