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In 'Easy Rider,' The 1960s Were A Time Of Freedom, And Failure

Fads | November 8, 2017

Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in 1969 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Gilbert TOURTE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Released in July 1969, the month before Woodstock, Easy Rider captured the spirit of the late '60s on film. Yet unlike the music festival, Easy Rider ultimately had a message of disillusionment and violence, an almost prophetic one given the massive downers that would haunt the counterculture beginning with Altamont in December 1969 and continuing through 1970. While the hippies at Woodstock were coming together, the protagonists of Easy Rider were crossing the country and feeling very alone.

As the tagline said, "A man went looking for America, and couldn't find it anywhere."

It's A Buddy Movie

The movie was about two young friends, Wyatt, who is also known as "Captain America" and played by Peter Fonda, and Billy, played by Dennis Hopper. They take off on their Harley-Davidson motorcycles for the cross-country adventure of a lifetime. Ultimately, they wanted to reach New Orleans for Mardi Gras.

Wyatt And Billy Meet All Sorts Of Americans

They left everything behind, except for a stash of money they scored from dealing drugs and kept hidden in the gas tank of Wyatt’s chopper. The money represented their version of the American dream. The plan was to find acceptance and tolerance in America. Along the way, the pair met a very diverse group of people. They met everyone from farmers to truckers to hitchhikers to prostitutes to rednecks to sexually liberated hippies living in communes.


They're Seeking Acceptance. Does It Exist?

Along the way, the LSD, cocaine, marijuana and alcohol were free flowing, and the party was never ending. The bikers had intended life to be easier and just wanted to be accepted for who they were and to live a carefree life. 

Things Do Not Go As Hoped

After they landed in jail, Wyatt and Billy met a Texas lawyer (Jack Nicholson) who, after getting them out, decided he wanted to tag along on the trip. Along the way, though, they experienced violence, bigotry and hatred. In the end, they never realized their dream.

'We Blew It' -- Blew What?

Toward the end of the film, Wyatt and Billy are sitting by a campfire, and Wyatt utters the line that has puzzled viewers for decades. "You know, Billy, we blew it."

What did he mean by that? Billy, the character didn't know. Fonda has often been asked what the line means -- here's a typical answer, given to Daily Camera:

Lots of people have asked me over the years, 'What did you mean by we blew it?' And I say, 'Look out the window. If you don't think we've blown it, you've got to take it a closer look.'

After that campfire scene, there's not much left to the movie, and what does remain is a major downer. That's another possible meaning to the line, that it's prophetic. "We blew it" could be Wyatt having a premonition that all their grand plans and ideals are, imminently, going down the drain.

Fonda's answer is cryptic, and, frankly, nobody's ever put forth a concise and convincing explanation. But perhaps the line is meant to initiate a conversation, rather than say anything definitively.

Easy Rider first screened at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival, where it earned director Dennis Hopper the award for Best First Work. Jack Nicholson was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and the film's script was nominated for an Oscar as well. Read below for a little bit of Easy Rider trivia.

• The movie idea was conceived by Peter Fonda while he was drinking and smoking marijuana.

• The marijuana that was smoked in the movie was authentic. They were actually getting high.

• The plot of the movie is representative of how people lose themselves in the process of pursuing the American dream.

• Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda argued over profit-sharing of the “Easy Rider” movie proceeds. They reportedly started the project as friends and ended it being enemies; which was ironic since they ended up being a real-life example of the moral of the story they made.

• Rip Torn was originally supposed to be cast as the Texas Lawyer, but was later fired for pulling a knife on Dennis Hopper. Torn sued Hopper for defamation and was awarded a judgment of $475,000.00.

• Jack Nicholson (not well-known at the time) was almost passed over for being cast as the Texas Lawyer in the movie because he didn’t have an authentic Texan accent. He was paid $392.00 per week.

• The redneck with the goiter that shot Wyatt and Billy was discovered at a gas station.

• The movie budget was, at least partly, funded by profits from the formation of “The Monkees.” The entire budget was a modest $360,000.00. Profits from the movie had surpassed this amount in about 1 week. It eventually grossed over $60,000.00 worldwide.

• The motorcycles were not shown in the last campfire scene because they had been stolen, at gunpoint, before the end of filming.

• During the acid-trip scene in the cemetery, Hopper used the suicide of Fonda’s mother to incite his tearful outburst, “I hate you so much!”

• The movie took over a year to edit because Hopper just couldn’t decide what to cut. At one time, he was prepared to release a version about 4 hours long.

Tags: 1969 | Easy Rider | Movies In The 1960s | The 1960s

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.