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Easy Rider (1969)

Over the past week I have attempted to watch Easy Rider several times. I had an avi. file of the film, but recently got a high-definition copy. Before viewing the film I had some trepidation, because of a comment my mother made years ago. This was back when I was still in high school. Sitting in the living room watching AMC a commercial for the film came on to which my mom said, “I cannot handle that film” or “I have very bad memories of that film.” This was out of character for a person who rarely says more than whether she liked a film or that “the characters swore too much.”

My mind went a bit nutty from this comment. I started to imagine a entire sequence of events regarding my mom’s experience with the film. In 1969 when the film was released my mom would have been 19 and a prime target for the audience of this film. Thinking about this in combination with the film’s themes I could only believe that my mom and her California hippy friends dropped acid before attending a matinée screening. This logically led to my mom having small psychotic break during the films own infamous ‘acid scene’ and abrupt conclusion. However, for a young high school guy who had just seen Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream I could not imagine a more affecting drug film.

Well now some eight or nine years later I have seen the infamous film and of course in relation to the hype I brought to it, the reality was underwhelming. However, this was a wonderful thing. Instead of some demonic or disturbing probe into the fractured psyche of america citizens, it now seems to play like a postcard to the majesty of the endless highways and landscapes of the country. Laszlo Kovacs’ photography is astounding in its simplicity and depth. For nearly a third of the film the camera seems to be mounted on a truck filming alongside the main characters as they tool down the highway. Those along with extended tracking shots of highway scenery and rolling plains highlight the wonder of being out on the road. Having been away from the US for the better part of eight months it was a joy to see how beautiful the county can be.

After the opening title sequence and few of the above mentioned landscape shots I was on board with the film completely.  Most of the ‘plot’ fell by the wayside in favor of the cinematography. The events that happen through the film are mere blips along the journey of these men on the road. I imagine others have covered this aspect, but it cannot be denied. Rather than probing deep into a culture/class conflict or wondering how hippies will make it in a convent I was entirely focused on the joy Hopper and Fonda exuded anytime they hit the road. (Also, I love Jack Nicholson’s helmet!)

The soundtrack of the film also elevates the beautiful photography. From the title sequence “Born to be Wild” to the excellent use of Jimi Hendrix’s “If 6 was 9” as they enter New Orleans the film seamlessly pairs image and sound. It is no wonder that these songs have defined  ‘road tunes’ since the film’s release.

While there is always more to comment on these are a few sketches of the things I was struck by watching Easy Rider.

Rating: 4/5

Until next time, Cheers!

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‘Best of’ Lists

Recently I have felt like I am in a phase of transition. It has a been a period of reflection on my part regarding the actual knowledge I have built up as an aspiring cinema and media scholar. This can be attributed to two things; applying to PhD schools and those gosh darn ‘best of’ lists.

I have always thought of myself as a movie buff and early on I made it a point to watch recommended films, blockbusters and any movie that might add to my collective film knowledge. Over the past several years I realize there are a vast amount of films that I have never come close to watching or even think about seeing.

While applying to PhD programs I have been taking ‘breaks’ by watching films from a seemingly endless list of ‘best of’ or ‘100 greatest lists.’ By and large I have seen the films that comprise the American Film Institutes’s (AFI) 100 series, however, within that group there are inevitably a handful from each I have not seen. In fact the comedy list from a few years ago is comprised with a majority of film from the 30’s and 40’s which I have never seen. Also, the combined Sight & Sound Best 10 polls over the past sixty years add another 20 films. Listing these films would be mundane, but anyone familiar with even a basic knowledge of cinema history will have seen or heard of these pictures.

I am pleased to report that I have made significant progress on these various lists and am increasingly encouraged by how wonderful cinema can be. Interesting enough many of these lists ignore Japanese and Asian cinema sans the absolute most well-known films or directors. Granted the AFI lists are composed only with US and some co-opted UK films (Third Man cough cough).

Anywho, since I have been making headway on these film lists I thought I would start posting comments. Not a review or critical analysis just a light sketch of impressions or things which stood out. In the past week I have seen quite a few so I will try to start posting them soon. Tonight, coincidentally is a Jack Nicholson double feature, Easy Rider (1969) and Chinatown (1974). In high school I purchased a VHS of Chinatown and have a vague recollection of seeing the film, but I feel it warrants another viewing. For instance I can only recall Nicholson’s nose being cut by a seedy character and the uber famous closing line of the film. Also, I only remember that line from a Simpsons reference where Moe tells homer, “Forget it Homer, it’s chiro-town,” in reference to an underhanded chiropractor ring that had been running through Springfield. (UPDATE: I totally forgot that the ‘seedy character’ is in fact director, Roman Polanski, a very ‘duh’ moment of recollection on my part)

To wrap up the goal of watching all these films is to provide this aspiring media scholar with a proper foundation in the most revered or well-known cinema which I have ignored up to this point. Hopefully this will result in less, “Oh I have heard of that and I need to see it” or the classic “I saw it a long time ago (see: NEVER), but I have forgotten large portions.” Most of all I do not want to be told a film is so ‘Godard’, ‘Fellini’ or ‘Melville’ again and doubt my own knowledge of film or question if they are just full of shit (when in doubt I go with the latter).

So this is the goal, lets see where the road takes us…

Until next time, Cheers!