‘Easy Rider’ depicts ’60s mind-set

Jack McKenna

Have you ever felt that you were beyond the laws of man? Maybe you were “born to be wild”? Then don’t dismiss the countercultural classic “Easy Rider” as a dated slice of life.

Sure, this 1969 road picture about two hippies (Dennis Hopper, who also directed, and Peter Fonda, who co-wrote the script and produced) riding their choppers across the States portrays a countercultural lifestyle.

However, it would become a cinematic anthem for members of the anti-establishment.

Despite being nearly 40 years old, the film is still relevant to life today.

Just consider a statement made by one of the characters, a Southern attorney (an Oscar-nominated turn by Jack Nicholson, who was then a relatively unknown B-movie actor): “This used to be a helluva country. I can’t understand what’s gone wrong with it.”

When you consider the ongoing war in Iraq, the recent jump in unemployment, rising inflation and skyrocketing energy costs, this statement rings true with a lot of people today.

The use of beautiful cinematography, rather than reliance on an excess of dialogue, is another reason why “Easy Rider” still works.

The emphasis is on the characters’ encounter with the open road, the American countryside and small-town life, thanks to the cinematography of László Kovács.

Kovács didn’t want to get involved with “Easy Rider” at first, mainly due to his extensive history with motorcycle films, and he wanted to move on to shooting other kinds of movies.

But Hopper convinced Kovács that he could turn scenery into a character, rather than just simple setting. Interestingly, the evocative look of the film, with its emphasis on muted tones and dappled light, has been accredited to a bus ride Kovács took across the United States after coming to this country as a political refugee from Hungary in 1957.

Thanks to the film’s popularity, Kovács was able to turn his back on second-rate productions and instead, go on to work with some of the era’s best directors, such as Hal Ashby (“Shampoo”) and Martin Scorsese (“New York, New York”).

Kovács received the American Society of Cinematographers Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.

Kovács died on July 22, 2007, before he could complete his feature documentary on the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

“Easy Rider,” which was ranked as the 84th greatest film of all time by the American Film Institute last year, is the upcoming feature in the Cultural Film & Lecture Series, “In Memoriam.”

The film will be shown four times in the Connelly Center Cinema: Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 3:30 and 7 p.m. and Monday at 7 p.m.

Admission is free for students with ID, and $5 for everyone else. SMU film professor Rick Worland, who has just written a book on Vietnam-era films, will introduce and lead a discussion after the film at the Monday screening.

For more information, contact the communication department at x9-4750 on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., or consult the CFS Web page: www.culturalfilms.villanova.edu.