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A little something about 'Easy Rider'

Plaid shirts or the dream was coughing up its own cancerous demise

When I was young I used to wear a plaid shirt. It wasn’t fashionable, it was pretty chunky and shapeless, but it keep me warm. I wouldn’t say I didn’t care about fashion, I just didn’t know anything about. Where does an 11 year old get fashion tips. The thing was I should of carried on wearing it, because they’re everywhere now, I was so far ahead of the curve, the curve was looking to me for prophetic fashion tips….so I like to think. And we come to the axiom, if you do something long enough it’ll soon come back into fashion…you just gotta weather the storm first.

Though being one of the gateway films for the new Hollywood revolution Easy Rider became the celluloid time capsule for the hippie dream at the same time as the dream was coughing up its own cancerous demise. They were selling hippy wigs in Woolworths and we were all being lied too, the Manson murders were a few months away, soon to be followed by Altamont. And soon the 60’s turned to the 70’s and coke and punk, then the 80’s and unfettered capitalism, aids and MTV. The postmodern, ironic 90’s spelt the death of sincerity, and the 00’s…well I have no idea…talent shows, skinny jeans and the return of cold war paranoia but this time over some folks who worshipped a different version of the same Abrahamic God and we assumed all lived in caves? Whatever they stood for, by this time Easy Rider had become a relic, the perfect film for those who are struggling to come up with a fancy dress costume and remember the first line of ‘Born to be Wild’.

But as everything has a tendency to be cyclical, no matter what they try and feed you, we may be able to look at Easy Rider with our ‘economic meltdown, environmental Armageddon, perpetual war’ glasses on and sternly tell the million and one, ideologies, philosophies, splinter groups, cults, diets and fashion labels to please be quiet and stop distracting us as we try assimilate something tangible from a very intangible world.

Suddenly the film seems to have something to say to us, but it’s best to clear all the bullshit that’s accumulated in our wardrobes, bookshelves and browsing history’s first before we heed it.

Easy Rider hasn’t dated particularly well, it’s aimless philosophical wanderings appear as what they are, and Schrader may have been right when he wrote that it has ‘the sophomoric desire to ‘astonish’ the self-congratulatory piety of an aphorist who has just demolished a series of straw men’, but it is also genuinely sincere and I’m not sure how any of us know how to handle this anymore.

It has two men who are genuinely trying to discover reason in their lives and in the world they live in (both it appears as the form of actors and filmmakers). They approach this task with open hearts and open minds and there is no cynicism in their intellectual and spiritual endeavours, they are not played for laughs, or littered with self-knowing winks at the camera, they are certainly not self-referential and are not cool because cool sells, they are cool because cool is good and different and relative. When cool was something to do with expression rather than something to laud over people.

So 'post everything' we can now look at the journey they take as at least some kind of attempt to find meaning when there was once none and now there is too much; the equally terrifying and beautiful prospect of drawing your own map rather using someone else’s. Easy Rider is the logical, but some what simplified, extension of Thoreau, Muir and Kerouac. No matter that it ends in tragedy, it is the search that matters, the journey that overcomes the films shortcomings. Schrader’s Porky Pig is forgiven because at least someone’s going about their lives with serious intent and an honest heart (conveniently ignoring the drugs in the petrol tank naturally!)

So I don’t need to tell you the plot of Easy Rider, you’ve already seen it, or read about it or seen it replayed in a hundred lesser films, but watch it again with a clear head, take everything it offers on face value, rather than fettered through the prism of perfume adverts, or comedy sketches, or satire, or posters on a students wall. It’s an honest film about the hopeless task that faces us all.

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