Tuesday, September 13, 2011

'Easy Rider' re-visited

When 'Easy Rider' was first released in the United States I had recently been working in London for a film distributor and so I was fortunate enough to see the movie in a small screening room in Wardour Street well before it reached British cinemas.

Funny, looking back, that I was asked to resign my job with the distributor on account of a joint being supposedly found in my desk drawer.

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A celebration of the counter-culture? A manifesto of hippie values? A cry of protest against the strictures an America strangled by its enslavement to the 'work ethos'? A cry of freedom from a generation 'Born To Be Wild'?

George Hanson (Jack Nicholson) in 'Easy Rider':
“I mean, it's real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace. Of course, don't ever tell anybody that they're not free, 'cause then they're gonna get real busy killin' and maimin' to prove to you that they are. Oh, yeah, they're gonna talk to you, and talk to you, and talk to you about individual freedom. But they see a free individual, it's gonna scare 'em.”

But on the other hand an entirely different interpretation to be considered:
“If this narrative had been Medieval, could there be any doubt at all of the theme or the moral teaching intended? Sinners wander the countryside on a secular quest, encountering God’s message but failing to acknowledge Him. They seek worldly pleasure at the expense of spiritual fulfillment, finding treasure and discussing it under a tree, only to finally to die a horrid death by the wayside. Wyatt and Billy were given choices, opportunities to find meaning in their lives beyond that gas tank filled with money, beyond the pleasure of the brothel or the bottle, beyond the aimless wandering, meaning offered through spiritual commitment. Could there be a more conservative theme?“ [New York Times June 8, 2010]

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Looking back I think that there was agreement in that screening room and in the coffee bar afterwards where my friends and I gathered to talk about the film. 'Easy Rider' saw counter-culture and work ethos as opposed and irreconcilable. But my clique... fully committed to the freedoms of counter-culture... saw no reason to abandon the work ethos. We were ambitious, incredibly ambitious, dreaming of achieving success in our own preferred fields.  

And I think that developments in the decades that followed... in particular with regard to the pioneering ventures in computer technology and the birth of the internet... showed that an attitude combining the work ethos with a counter-cultural contrarianism cold be very productive indeed.

Either way it makes 'Easy Rider'... whether hippie apologia or conservative parable... look to me just a bit antiquated. 

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