Easy Rider is a late 1960s "road film" a story about the search for freedom in a conformist and corrupt America, in the midst of paranoia, bigotry and violence. It was made in the year of the Woodstock concert, but the tone of the film is remarkably tragic and bleak, perhaps aiming to reflect the collapse of the idealistic 60s.
The journey by two self-righteous, anti-hero bikers eastward through the American Southwest, is deliberately described to us through the pumping soundtrack.
The excerpt to be looked at begins at the point where the drug deal has just been finalised and we see an extreme close up of the fuel tank of Wyatt's motorbike.
"...the audience is supposed to place a fetish value on the bikes...is stated by the use of the hand held camera which caresses the objects." Hugo 70
The shot then tilts up to reveal Wyatt rolling his money up and hiding it in a tube that is kept in the petrol tank of his Harley donning the American flag.
Steppenwolf's "The Pusher", a song, which is overtly against hard-drug pushers and dealing, is playing as the action occurs.
" The overall message of this scene, that the two protagonists are committing a crime, is hammered home by the introduction of the first piece of rock music, the anti drug song 'The Pusher' This links the deal scene at the airport with the introduction of the motorcycles." Hugo 70
You know I smoked a lot of grass
Oh Lord, I popped a lot of pills
But I've never touched nothin'
That my spirit could kill
You know I've seen a lot of people walkin' round
With tombstones in their eyes
But the pusher don't care
Aw, if you live or if you die
God damn the Pusher
God damn, hey I say the Pusher
I said God damn, God damn the Pusher man.
Wyatt casts off his wristwatch to the ground, a literal and symbolic flourish that shows his newfound freedom and rejection of time constraints in modern society. As they take to the open road on their motorcycles, crossing the Colorado River they pass through unspoiled sand-coloured deserts, the credits begin to scroll, accompanied by the song by Steppenwolf: "Born To Be Wild." It is the start of a beautiful adventure as they travel through memorable landscapes of America, accompanied by the pounding of rock music.
"With Easy Rider's music providing a detailed, referential system of communication, Captain America and Billy need to do little to express this sense of individuality and this desire for freedom. Whether peddling drugs, smoking pot, skinny-dipping, or simply riding, the music provides a schema with which we may interpret the significance of the characters actions." Smith 169
Get your motor runnin'
Head out on the highway
Lookin' for adventure
And whatever comes our way
Yeah, darlin' gonna make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of the guns at once and
Explode into space.
I like smoke and lightnin'
Heavy metal thunder
Racin' with the wind
And the feelin' that I'm under
Repeat of Chorus 1
Like a true nature's child
We were born, born to be wild
We can climb so high
I never wanna die.
Born to Be Wild
Born to Be Wild... (www.lyrics.com)
The pop cultural film was also a reflection of the "New Hollywood," the first blockbuster hit from a new wave of Hollywood directors that would break with a number of Hollywood conventions.
"...the film contained within it many of the stylistic an ideological characteristics which made much American Cinema in the early 1970's appear to be different and somehow more meaningful than earlier styles of production" Hugo 67
With little background or historical development of characters, and a lack of typical heroes, uneven pacing, jump cuts and flash-forward transitions between scenes, an improvisational style and mood of acting and dialogue, background rock 'n' roll music was used to complement the narrative.
"Captain America and Billy need not communicate their goals and desires verbally; they simply must embody them, and the music itself will serve to specify these goals through individual character traits. The lyrics of the songs gave voice to feelings and attitudes that were not made explicit by other structures of the text." Smith 170
Easy Rider was a revolutionary concept in the way that it used a soundtrack in such a useful and expressive way, and would be a benchmark to films of the future.
"Easy Rider's non-diagetic rock score not only underlined the film's setting and highlighted traits of the two main characters but also served as ironic counterpoint in a way that decisively showed that the multi-artist pop compilation could be employed to pointed dramatic effect" Smith 162
1.Hopper, D. (1969) Easy Rider .
2.Hugo, C. (1986) Movie, vol 31/32 "Easy Rider and Hollywood in the 70's" WEB; p.67-71
3.Smith, J. (1998) The Sounds of Commerce: Marketing Popular Film Music , New York, Columbia UP; p.154-185