Riding Easy

easy rider tank.jpg
A screenshot from the interwebnets of Captain America tank.

Or

Ciao Bella, Peter Fonda

Never understood Peter Fonda, dear worst-reader. Although I liked a few of his films, there was always something about him that bugged me. Maybe it was his odd, non-leading man looks–yet he got leading roles. Perhaps it was the hair line that he managed to cover up most of his life, replacing it with a huge forehead. Heck, he had a huge head. And then there’s that baby-smile. You know, the type of smile that some men have that shows teeth, skull, the innards of a face-soul begging for parental love and affection, and it all never quite making it to full blossomed adulthood. Then again, he’s quite the opposite of his sister, don’t you know. Especially in the looks department. Jane Fonda was one heck of an actress–in her day. Or did you not dig Barbarella, dear worst-reader? And what about that cunnilingus scene in Coming Home? How the heck did John Voight come up from down there without a smear or blemish on his Vietnam protesting beard? Oh my. So much for brother Peter becoming a kind of flaccid action hero in the 1970s while dear sister, Hanoi Jane, nails it–both in Hollywood and post McCarthyism.

Of course, there’s no talk of Peter, or his sister Jane, without first talking about Henry, the patriarch. My guess is, Henry Fonda was a huge a$$hole. If there was ever an iconic yet misconstrued patriarch of Hollywood, it had to have been Henry Fonda. I mean, another fcuked-up Hollywood a$$hole was Charlton Heston. In fact, most of these so-called leading men of the gilded age of Hollywood had to have all been a$$holes. Or? I mean, that’s what their generation was all about, right? And then they past that on to the next generation–the consequences we’re all living with now, don’t you know. Then again, as fcuked-up as kids of patriarchs can be, Peter and Jane kinda turned out ok. Or?

Nomatter.

Personally, I thought Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry was one of Peter’s best films. The thing about 70’s movies was that they couldn’t help but portray the lingering reality that was becoming the future of my beloved & missed #Americant. That is, they portrayed the true face of things to come. You know, fascism, white supremacy, greed-galore–and the lust for physical objects. For it probably was 1970’s America that paved the way for what the world is now. Indeed. And so. In the back seat of a Dodge Charger the grand SHE lay waiting with legs wide open, dear worst-reader. Unknowing but filled with desire, Peter Fonda enters HER and all hell breaks loose as he fills it up with regret and she giggles and wiggles and shiggles–as HER and the #Americant meaning of life become manifest… In the back seat of a huge, two-door super car sedan named Charger.

Anywho.

I particularly liked the sudden crash ending of not just Dirty Mary but also Easy Rider, two similarities the films share. In Dirty Mary, as the characters smile and laugh thinking they’ve outsmarted and out-run the police, including a helicopter, in a car chase that couldn’t have been more banal, the film is randomly and violently ended as our anti-heroes crash into a moving freight train. The beautiful Dodge Charger lights up in flames and the soundtrack of the movie seems to try and hide the screams of the conceiving female in the back seat that is now dying, burning away, becoming ash. I remember the credits of the film rolling as the car continued to burn. What a unique way to roll credits, I thought to my young self, thereby also noticing the flaws of the car that indicated the cut scene, the use of a dummy car, and the oddly undamaged, unblemished freight train passing and passing and passing by.

But enough here and there about b-movie making galore. With his recent passing, I can’t help but recall the issues I’ve had over the years with Peter Fonda’s most iconic role. Easy Rider, to me, was never the counterculture film that it’s been labeled. The main reason for that is my cynicism regarding the so-called hippie generation, or the counterculture stemming from the 1950s to the 70s, which is somehow supposed to be part of Easy Rider. The reason for my cynicism is simple and perhaps better addressed in the confusion that is this worst-blog. So I’ll not linger on all that here. Instead. To worst-moi. Peter Fonda ain’t no hippie and he certainly can’t play one.

Easy Rider is a reflection. It is also a question without answer. Hence, it ain’t so much a film about, well, hanging out and partying it up on two wheels when your parents want you to become a doctor or a lawyer but instead a portrayal of what goes on in the world when no one looks in the mirror. People just go about life and their circumstance as though there is no cause and effect. In other worst-words, there is no backstory to the film. There is no character development either–except, maybe, Jack Nicholson’s character. And when all is said and done, when all the substances are ingested and the mind’s eye swirls just enough, the only thing that remains is how two lucked-out drug dealers get blown away by redneck hillbillies because, well, they were too stupid to know that freedom in #Americant is only free as long as someone or something enables it for you. Yeah, what a waste, eh? Still, a kind of entertaining movie–if you’re into that sort of thing. There’s a reason Easy Rider and what it is probably won’t transcend generations. But I don’t want to get too critical here.

Instead here a few minor criticisms.

One of the first things I noticed about the fakery of what Fonda was portraying in Easy Rider was the moment after their big drug sell-off at the beginning of the movie. Suddenly the scene cuts to them packing away their cash and then to chopped motorcycles and perfectly tailored hippie outfits. There was a word that came about in the 1980s that better fit this scene than the word hippie, don’t you know. (I first saw the movie in the early 1980s, btw.) That word is yuppie. Or did you not get a load of what Wyatt was wearing before transforming into a biker from la-la-land? Seriously. If anyone fit the bill of an up-n-coming yuppie, it was Wyatt. Buy-the-by, the only difference between a hippie and a yuppie is the environment in which their greed operates. Wouldn’t it have been more fitting, if this were some kind of ode to drug smuggling, that these two men weren’t so clean cut? Also, Wyatt’s cool-headed, contemplative nature didn’t fit well to the adventure he was on. Or did it? What do I know. Fonda could’ve been my dad. But I digress.

So what about the iconic nature of the movie, dear worst-writer? Sorry. If you think about it, there’s not much iconography here. In fact, the only thing iconic in the movie are the props, including the motorcycles. But even that’s weak. On the other hand, the motorcycles1 ultimately have nothing to do with the myth that the movie might be trying to perpetuate. In fact, considering what Harley Davidson has become, you’d think there were a few wise former hippies out there that would boycott such a greed-mongering product. Harley Davidson is a company shrouded in the ills of #Americant business malpractice. Whether it’s the lie of being American made or the manifestation of a kind of freedom dictated by your wallet, the company is nothing more than a scam, especially considering they couldn’t make a modern motorcycle, including their Porsche Harley, even if they wanted to.

The other props worth mention in the movie are the drugs. What’s important to remember about them, though, is this. The drug used to afford Wyatt and Billy the trip is cocaine. Cocaine is the drug of choice for yuppies, especially those who think they’re free as they earn so much via the skyscrapers in and around Wall Street which then allows them to go out on weekends with their über-expensive HOGs thinking/hoping, like so many others, they’re Easy Riders. What banality, eh. And we all know what happened with cocaine by the time the 1980’s and Reaganomics greed-mongering rolled around. The other thing to keep in mind about cocaine is that it is not a drug that changes one’s mindset. That is, it’s not an hallucinogenic. It is, in fact, a drug that keeps people stuck in a mindset. At the least, cocaine is not like the acid they have a bad trip on while in New Orleans. How/why that was even in the movie, I have no idear. But enough about what should be commonplace in a world where illicit drugs are about avoidance, eh.

What about freedom, dear worst-writer? Yes. What about it, dear worst-reader? As you may or may not know, Wyatt kinda has seen the light by the end of this movie. Although Billy thinks that they DID IT, Wyatt thinks they screwed the pooch. Combine that with the crisp, creaseless leather jacket, and that immaculate American flag sewn on his back as their trip begins, and things start to unravel in the/a world of iconography. Also. So much for Hollywood and its rig(ging) of counterculture, eh, dear worst-reader? I mean, you can only take iconography so far before it all starts to unravel. Disney anyone? But hey, who am I to poop on your iconic movie parade? You want a cheap, thrown together motorcycle named Captain America as an icon? Go for it. Or how ’bout a half-written road movie that was really about all the internal conflicts between creators and financiers? What the heck, eh. On the other hand, I’d prefer Wyatt’s gold watch, which he throws away because it stopped at the beginning of their trip—NOT because he didn’t want to tell time anymore. And then there’s riding cross country next to a doofus. Seriously. Billy is a Tonto-like sidekick, who, to this day, I have no fcuking idear why he’s even in the movie. At least Dennis Hopper, as a director, was pretty good. Yeah, direction that pushed a few buttons before buttons became obsolete.

Don’t get me wrong, dear worst-reader. I love Easy Rider. But I also hate it–because I know what the generation that made it turned out to be. I think I’ve got two copies of it somewhere in a box of DVDs in my cellar. Heck, it’s not even ripped to my home server where I could view it anytime, anywhere. No. I’ve seen it twice, I think. One more time than I needed to see it. At least it was fun the first time and some of the memories that go with that first viewing are pretty cool, too. I think her name was cutie-pie and she could suck a golf-ball through ten feet of garden hose. Miss you cutie!

RIP Peter Fonda.

Rant on.

-T


  1. Choppers were a dime a dozen when I was a kid in the 70s. Maybe they weren’t as shinny and spanking new, but choppers were everywhere. In fact, “chopping” old motorcycles–or cars–was no different in some places than whittling a stick. Most working poor males of suburban hell couldn’t get their rocks off otherwise and it was a great way to avoid nagging wives, I’m sure. Go out to the shed or garage and find some fcuking peace! Also. To me, Peter Fonda riding around on that bike should have ruined Harley Davidson. Ironically HD was on the verge of bankruptcy in the 70s. So what I guess is really iconic is the fact that HD found a way to capitalise on chopping motorcycles themselves, over-pricing them, and then getting a bunch of schmuck yuppies to buy them who believed, with their soul and not their politics, they could somehow become… Easy Rider. Go figure. ↩︎

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