Easy Rider Dennis Hopper

Most people dismiss Easy Rider as a hippie-mandated faux-Western on motorcycles that's more important for the time it arrived than for any contributions it made to film culture. They're mostly right. Director Dennis Hopper, however, sees it as the first American art film, a meditation not just on obvious influences like John Ford but of Spanish surrealist Luis Buñuel, for example. He's less right than the first group. It might appear that Hopper is getting high and driving custom bikes across America in an attempt to make a political statement about freedom; what he really wanted to do was win the Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. All this uncharacteristic clarity is the hallmark of the new 35th Anniversary Edition of the film, which contains a second CD soundtrack to accompany essays and commentary on the film's influence and impact. But here's the funny thing about Easy Rider: it's become a curio, a museum piece that yes, represents a certain time and place, if not in American culture then certainly in American film. It was a landmark for independent productions and ushered in a half-decade of filmmaking that was derived from, if not directed towards, the American counterculture. It was a significant step in the use of found source music instead of score, for example, and it added a whole new dimension to the palette of American culture. Yet the fact remains that in retrospect, it's not that good or interesting a film. It's more than a little hokey — it hasn't aged well in that respect. Its symbolism is obvious and heavy-handed. Its performances, such as they are, are drug-addled at best — on purpose, mind you, and that adds a certain free-wheeling authenticity to the whole affair — but the people who come off as most "real" are the folk that our intrepid duo (Hopper and Peter Fonda's Captain America) encounter along the way. It's fun and an interestingly museum piece, but its influence as a film and as a piece of art has long since been passed on the cultural highway. (Columbia Tristar)