Summer of ’69

Pub date August 5, 2009
SectionFilm FeaturesSectionFilm Review

When Dylan wrote "Forever Young," he surely didn’t reckon on something that would make even the most yoga-limbered original hippie feel old: Easy Rider turning 40. But it just did, an occasion commemorated by the restored print playing the Red Vic this week. Disregarding the tragic social-commentary ending, one can ponder "Where would Captain America and Billy be now?" — then watch 2007’s Wild Hogs for one depressing possible answer.

Easy Rider has been lionized and analyzed as the single film that most changed — or eroded — old-school Hollywood. It was made well under the radar for a pittance, by the blind leading the naked — Peter Fonda had never produced a film, and Dennis Hopper had never directed one. Real rednecks hired as bit players really did want to beat up the longhaired crew, who really were frequently on the drugs ingested on-screen. Hopper dithered for a year before delivering a three-hour edit. (Surprisingly, he approved of the 95-minute final version others hastily cut.)

By the time Rider finally came out, some thought the biker genre was already finished. Despite all that, it became a phenomenon, "defining the sixties" and inducing the studios to chase that elusive magic by green-lighting innumerable other first-time filmmakers’ equally loose, indulgent features.

Looking at Easy Rider now is like rereading Hermann Hesse or Carlos Castaneda 40 years later — do it at your own peril, because what seemed so profound then might be revealed as pretentious, vague, and awfully dated. The mystique transcended the movie long ago. But this tale of two hippie dudes smuggling coke (scored from Phil Spector as "the Connection"!) cross-country only to discover they "blew it," has innumerable parts greater than its sum: it gave us Jack Nicholson (who was about to quit acting before being asked to replace Rip Torn), cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs, all-rock soundtracks, the inimitable Karen Black, and many more. As phrase and symbol, Easy Rider still evokes a dream.


Wed/5–Sat/8, check Web site for times, $6–$9

Red Vic Movie House

1727 Haight, SF