Directed by Dennis Hopper
When two colleagues from the Roger Corman stable cast him in their little indie road movie, an unknown actor named Jack Nicholson was ready for his close-up. Nicholson had scripted Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in The Trip (1967), and this time around, although he was their third choice for the role of third banana, he knew how to chew on cult satirist Terry Southern's dialogue. "This used to be a hell of a good country," Nicholson says, in one of Easy Rider's famous stoned fireside raps. "I can't understand what's gone wrong with it."
Nicholson's character, a Dixie-based ACLU lawyer, ought to be hip already to what's going on. But then, sort of like the era it depicts, 1969's toast-of-Cannes has always been a mix of cynicism and naiveté. Still, in Film Forum's crisp 35mm restoration, and its accompanying awesome period rock soundtrack, this Boomer relic has aged well. If you can perish thoughts of Albert Brooks in Lost in America and of Wilson and Stiller in Starsky & Hutch, there's more than an obnoxious generational statement here — there's also a black comedy about our ongoing Red v. Blue conflict.
Hanoi Jane's kid brother warns, in the final act, that "we blew it," foreshadowing his smug comment, three decades later in Steven Soderbergh's The Limey, that there were no 1960s, only "'66 and early '67." For his part, Hopper appears gleeful that the dream is over. The LSD sequence at Mardi Gras — shot first on grainy stock, a year earlier, to attract financing — has the far-out, thanatological vibe of the director's next project, The Last Movie. And on-screen, as the nervous sidekick to Fonda's white knight, Hopper plants the seeds of the psychotic runts he would embody during the Reagan administration.
May 1-7 at Film Forum
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