in a way that shows that you do not accept the control or influence of someone or something. ” The term “revolt” also has multiple definitions. Revolt can be described as “a sudden, extreme, or complete change in the way people live, work, etc. ” In the arena of motion picture history, essentially the last 100 or so years, Hollywood has well documented countless revolutions dating back to the beginning of recorded history. These cinematic revolutions revolve around social and racial injustice and uprisings against governments, among others.
These motion pictures have ometimes involved one-man revolts against the norm, and have Just as often centered on the masses going against what seemed to have been a lifestyle or mind frame that was thought to be good for everyone. I have chosen to make an attempt to dissect one rather well known film and one landmark documentary which subject matter revolves around the same era, that being the late 1960’s. I believe each is a classic example of mid-twentieth century events that represents an era that helped shape the nation as we know it today.
A nation that still has a way to go in accepting those who we view as different from ourselves. A nation that is still Jumping hurdles in the arena of acceptance and tolerance. A society that, to this day, still looks down upon those who go against what some will describe as mainstream. I believe there are obvious correlations between the revolutionary realities of these two films, the films being ‘Easy Rider’ (1969), written by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, and directed by Dennis Hopper, and the 1970 documentary Woodstock: 3 Day of Peace and Music’ (Columbia Pictures, produced by Bob Maurice, directed by Michael Wadleigh).
Ideally, my attempt will be to present various arguments and opinions s to the massive youth movement to drop out of mainstream society, superbly demonstrated in each of these films. The landmark counterculture film ‘Easy Rider’ (Columbia Pictures, 1969; Directed by Dennis Hopper, Produced by Peter Fonda) was the brainchild of now legendary actors Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. The film was essentially a labor of love which helped demonstrate that a new genre of filmmaking, relative to that time, was cause for introducing the world to the realities of life as a hippie who no longer was willing to live life in the mainstream world.
While counterculture filmmaking was evolving as result of the movement, this film seems to be one that gained more notoriety than others, probably because of its producers/writers/stars The film is essentially a series of adventures for Wyatt (Fonda) and Billy (Hopper) who has departed Los Angeles headed for New Orleans after funding their excursion with a big drug deal. It is here that I will begin to dissect the film and try to explain what I believe to be the revolutionary highlights of the film.
Much of my thought process will be my own personal opinion based on what IVe learn over the years about the conservative 950’s, a decade that gave way to a complete contradiction in terms of the explosive fictional, I begin to blend my comments and presents thoughts and arguments about the landmark, Oscar winning 1970 documentary Woodstock: 3 Days of Peach and Music. ‘ Upon viewing the film ‘Easy Rider’ it is first of all most interesting to note that Wyatt and Billy own very nice choppers.
With this, it is also very obvious that each are unemployed and don’t seem to have any aspirations for gainful employment. The drug deal that they orchestrate is obviously enough to bankroll their trip halfway cross the country, so it doesn’t seem that money is a problem. There is no evidence in the film of higher education, so I’m assuming that each are likely in their early to mid-twenties. From the outset of the film, a series of questions come to mind: what kind of families were these two guys from?
What is the financial background of their families? What led them to seek the freedom’ of not having Jobs, making an excursion with no real direction (other than their destination of fun), and demonstrating no tangible thought to their futures? It is not difficult to imagine these wo characters, raised in the squeaky clean era of the 1950’s, becoming completely dissatisfied with the conservative structure of that decade and wanting to break free of all things that seem normal and mainstream.
I somehow think that this mind frame could be the result of an upbringing with some significant financial means, with parents who were interested in a wholesome upbringing, but not really paying close enough attention to their friends, their habits, or their interests. This seems like a pretty good scenario for producing young adults who feel they have enough ackbone to totally turn the tables on their upbringing and go completely against their hypothetically conservative and wholesome upbringing. I believe in this essay my recurring thought will be this: WHY!
Why does these young people want to carve out a life that is clearly harder than is should be? Why would they choose to cohabitate together in substandard dwellings in this type of terrain? What possessed them to drift into this lifestyle subsequent to a relatively normal upbringing of plenty and structure? While revolt and defiant behavior are fairly normal for young adults ttempting to find their place in the world, the counterculture arena of the 1960’s somewhat boggles the mind as to the blatant departure of a world that seemed, for all practical purposes, fairly normal.
Thus, when Wyatt and Billy set out for New Orleans, the series of adventures take place, starting with them picking up a hippie hitchhiker who is needing a ride back to the commune community he is a member of. This commune, with lots of young people with plenty of young children, appears to be placed somewhere in the desert mountains, possibly in northern Arizona, or perhaps in northwestern New Mexico. There are indications of not enough water, a cold winter, and soil not fit for harvesting food, which is clearly what they intend to do.
Rob Kirkpatrick, in his book “1969: The Year Everything Changed (Skyhorse Publishers, New York: 2009) makes mention regarding the commune movement that “for many young people on the fringes of society, the growing violence and paranoia across the American landscape was a sign that the nation was coming apart at the seams. There was a feeling that urban and suburban life and threatened to remove humankind from its natural environment.
The desire to escape the trappings of odern society and ‘recapture’ a simpler, Edenic time from Amernca’s perceived past went hand in hand with an increasing ecological awareness and led to the back-to- the members of the commune are apparently gathered together for a sort of ‘ceremony to commemorate the end of planting crops in attempt to grown their own food. It is a somewhat comical, yet boring scene until they finish showing the faces of all the adult members of the commune, who all appear to be fairly spaced out.
The scene concludes with one very strange dude who is sort of ‘praying that their efforts will be rewarded with bountiful and plentiful crops. His last statement concludes with “…………… .. and thank you for a place to take a stand. ” This is a comment that I thought had a universal theme as it relates to any discussion regarding revolt or revolution. That particular statement in that setting, as well as the entire Woodstock setting as a whole, prompts these questions in my mind: why did it take this type of setting to be thankful for any kind of stand?
Who was the ‘prayer’ directed at? If the prayer was indeed directed at God, my thought is this: there is a grounding there with a possible religious upbringing that tells me there is a recognition of a higher piritual power, which in my mind lends itself to a grasp to a mainstream upbringing. Regarding Woodstock, were the attendees taking a particular stand for anything? Of course they were (and to be sure, one of the recurring themes in the music at Woodstock was peace, certainly as it relates to the Vietnam War).
Sure, they were there for some really great music in a natural setting, and clearly they felt like they were free to express any and all opinions to those who essentially believed the same way, but each setting presents obvious hardships. The Easy Rider commune setting ith the infertile ground for harvesting, and the meadow where there was nothing but people and not much else at Woodstock- among other obvious hardships. I’m thinking that there could have easily been much better places in order to take a stand against the norm, connect with nature, and enjoy the company of like people without making like so vastly hard for themselves.
Demonstrations (and I certainly believe that communes are a type of demonstration) were rampant for a variety of reasons in those days – peace during war time, social and racial injustice, and the opposition against a conservative structural society. They took place in metropolitan cities, college and university campuses, Washington DC. Why not be heard in a peaceful way in organized settings, exercising free speech, and leave it at that? However much I believe in the right to be heard and to voice, it seems like so much effort was for naught because of the ways these people chose to isolate themselves so extremely.
It’s almost as if they thought they had no choice but to do so, which doesn’t make sense to me at all. That very same thought – those who appeared to think they had no choice but to revolt again society in some form or fashion, I think ends itself to the societal departure mind frame of Peter Fonda himself for making the film Easy Rider. While reading parts of Fonda’s autobiography “Don’t Tell Dad; A Memoir” (Hyperion Publishers, New York: 1998), Fonda offer the following that I thought was interesting related to some personal reflection.
He states on page 261 that “we shot scenes explaining our identities and the background of the dream of mailing a big score and going to Florida to retire. At that time, Dennis and I both felt that retiring was a very real crime against the planet and the democratic process. I still feel that way. There’s too much shit to be dealt with to even think about retirement. Dennis and I were young men, dissatisfied and disenfranchised, when our cause. Dennis is a full Repo (Republican) now; voted for Bush-Quayle. If anything, IVe gone in the other direction, taking Jefferson’s instructions to ‘alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government. I personally think it’s interesting that Fonda states he is dissatisfied and disenfranchised. Being the offspring of Hollywood royalty and being raised having not wanting for anything, it is also well known that Henry Fonda was a strict father who apparently held a tight rein on his now two amous children until they reached the age of making their own decisions, hence the title of his autobiography and an early departure from the norm in his work and lifestyle. Also, Fonda’s mother, Francis Ford Seymour, committed suicide in a mental institution when Peter was 10 years old.
Thus, in my personal opinion, it’s not exactly hard to see why Peter Fonda found it relatively easy to turn his direction beyond the supposed wholesome arena of the conservative 1950s. I believe the Hollywood connection with his upbringing gave Peter the outlet needed to possibly express his isregard for structured society, yet I personally see his comment of dissatisfaction and disenfranchisement more associated with his issues of his personal life than with those of the movements of the day. Maybe he was also trying to keep up with his sister and her involvement in the issues of the day.
Fonda’s sister Jane, certainly famous as an Oscar winning actress, is also Just as notable for her notorious opposition during the Vietnam war that earned her the title of “Hanoi Jane. ‘ What I thought that was most interesting coming from Jane Fonda, as it relates to the film Easy Rider, was that in her autobiography ‘My Life So Far” (Random House Publishers, New York: 2005), she reveals that “my father, Vadim Cane’s husband at the time, French film producer/director Roger Vadim), and I sat in a private projection room and watched Peter’s film Easy Rider, which hadn’t been released yet.
My father didn’t know what to make of it but was awed that his son had co-written and produced it. I loved parts of it, like Jack Nicholson getting turned on to pot around the campfire and the motorcycle odyssey across America. I thought it unbelievably audacious that they arried kilos of cocaine in their bikes and tripped on acid in a cemetery. But I secretly thought it would be too rough and far-out for most audiences. It was Vadim who understood that here was a no-holds-barred cinematic breakthrough that would resonate immediately and become a classic (p. 61). ” Interesting words from an already famous Hollywood liberal who didn’t think the film would catch on with audiences of the day! I believe her words noted the significance of the film related to the causes of the era, but it’s a little hard to believe that she thought it too much for ‘most audiences. It would seem to me that someone like Jane Fonda, even then, would recognize that ‘most audiences’ patronizing movie theaters certainly included those who were at least a minor part of the counterculture movement in 1969.
While the turbulent 1960’s were drawing to a close, the drug using sexual freedom hippie youth contingent was in full swing, having long been inspired by the counterculture music and lyrics with messages of free love, war protest, anti-government, and peace. When I read this statement by Jane Fonda, one of the leaders of the pact at the time, it is hard to me to fathom why she, of all people, would make such a statement. I would think that she would have figured that the major audience of the day would have certainly been the youth who were so very much wrapped up in the movement.
Hollywood establishment even then that she somehow underestimated the majority of movie patrons of the day, which I can only imagine could have been the case. The documentary DVD is entitled Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music’ (Warner Bros Pictures, 1970. Produced by Bob Maurice, Directed by Michael Wadleigh). After having watched this documentary multiple times, trying to get a feel of the mind frame of he era and the people, it is very easy to see the fruition of this initial vision started by concert promoter Michael Lang.
However comical it was for a 23 year old (speaking of myself) to watch and marvel at the attitudes of the young people, their use of language of the time, and the obvious disregard for the norm, it finally dawned on me that the 1960’s had been more about breaking free of the structured and conservative 1950’s, with the mid to late 1960’s music festivals being more of a social gathering point of those who stood with their peers of the counterculture generation. The blatant use of profanity in many of the interviews of the young people is as if it was part of everyday language of everyone and no big deal.
Also, in many scenes, most of the men in the scenes are shirtless, as are a few women in certain scenes. On top of that, there is a scene during the festival where there is a small lake (or large pond) that was chosen as a popular destination for skinny dipping (as it was described in the documentary) which reveals many completely nude people taking advantage of a place to cool off, possibly bathe, but to also express their complete comfort in the presence of other naked people.
In the opening sequences of the documentary DVD, there are various interviews with local people who are clearly affected by the sudden massive crowds. One older gentleman offers that the kids are polite and respectful, always saying yes sir, no sir, and thank you. His wife states that the kids are “beautiful people”, saying that they are optimistic that the festival will be good for Sullivan County. Another gentleman worries how they are going to feed all these people!
With this, in Easy Rider and the Woodstock documentary, the idea of contradiction comes to mind as it relates to the ‘movement’ people and the rest of the world. Why? Because there are concrete sequences in each film of hippie folks either bonding with regular people, as in Easy Rider when Wyatt and Billy have to stop and fix a flat, only to be invited to eat with the family who assists them, or in Woodstock, when many of the townspeople interviewed are complementary of the kids attending the three day concert.
Yet, in a total departure from the previous two paragraphs, I noted in Rob Kirkpatrick’s book ‘1969: The Year Everything Changed,’ that Life magazine sent two young reporters to investigate the realities of commune life for a July 1969 article entitled “The Youth Communes” New Way of Living Confronts the U. S. ” One of the reporters stated that the commune folks ‘almost invariably encountered hostility and even violence from local people. Most commune residents wanted nothing to do with the outside world. That was the whole point – to escape it. The residents were largely cognizant of society’s attitudes toward them (pg. 40). ” As an opinion to the immediate above mentioned, what comes to mind is this: while the counterculture movement seemed to be, among other things, almost total misalignment with the norm, it appears that in many ways there was an uncanny cceptance among some who somehow understood this younger generation and their desire to be respected for what they stood for, their appearance, their music, also a contingent who simply could not handle the total disregard for the perceived normal, structured America, hence the lashing out against these youth.
I personally do not believe that the counter culture ‘revolt’ was all that different from every other younger generation who attempts to ‘stick out’ in their own ways for their own acceptance, yet the immediate decade following the conservative 1950’s was about as drastic of a departure as it could possibly have been. There is clear evidence in each film of acceptance in each film, and I believe that somehow there was maybe a strive for acceptance in the production of each, hence the absence of total disregard for these youth in each film.
Certainly the late 1960’s is known for the political awakening of the younger generation as it related to the opposition to the Vietnam War and the monumental youth involvement in the civil rights revolution. Tensions were high nationwide with college campus protests, inner-city riots, and even people losing their lives (Kent State comes to mind). Michael Lang stated in his book ‘The Road to Woodstock (HarperCollins Publishers, New York: 2009) that “there had been so much conflict over the past year, with violent confrontations occurring on college campuses, in urban ghettos, and at demonstrations across the country.
At Woodstock we would focus our energy on peace, setting aside the onstage discussion of political issues to just groove on what might be possible. It was a chance to see if we could create the kind of world for which we’d been striving throughout the sixties: that would be our political statement – proving that peach and understanding were possible and reating a testament to the value of the counterculture” (page 53).
Along these same lines, music production executive Stanley Goldstein, who was recruited by Michael Lang to orchestrate and supervise multiple facets of the festival, remembers in the 2009 book entitled Woodstock: The Oral History Ooel Makower; State of University New York Press, Albany, New York), that “in 1969, we were in the middle of a war in Vietnam. We were in the middle ofa civil rights revolution. The youngsters were – I use the term advisedly, youngsters – but there was a vast awakening of some kind of political action, I think inspired by the civil rights movement. The police were in general considered the enemy.
New York was the hotbed of social action and reaction. The Yippies and the hippies and marches protesting the war, marches for civil rights, marches for gay rights, marches for women’s rights. There was conflict everywhere you looked – there was Them and Us” (page 60). As an opinion to the above two paragraphs, it almost seemed like the country was in a type of civil war. At my age it is hard to imagine, and after asking my parents if they remembered anything at all about the unrest during the late 1960’s, they could not even relate to these issues as they were still young children in 1969.
But if I had to offer my two cents on what the mind frame of the country was in this era, it would be this: that the structure that resulted in the post-prohibition era of the 1920’s, together with the sheer uncertainty of the depression era 1930’s, the world at war in the 1940’s, and the squeaky clean conservative 1950’s, the 1960’s almost seemed as a boiling point for a generation to speak up for what they believed, what they believed was wrong with our government, what they believed was wrong about the social norms and structure, and this generation rose in droves with their voices, their music, with their behavior, nd with the blatant use of drugs and alcohol, in rebellion. I think it is easy to see fascinating to get a glimpse of all this in this documentary.
I think it would be wrong, in an essay such as this one, not to throw in something on the political spectrum. Clearly, the message of protest, in various forms, rings through loud and clear through the music presented by artists such as Joan Baez singing ‘Joe Hill’, a song about a soldier she saw alive in a dream even though he had been dead for a decade, or Richie Havens, who opened Woodstock with the anti-war anthem Handsome Johnny, with lyrics covering several American wars including Vietman and the message of no one listening (the government) when the cries for peace are heavy on the hearts for the massive loss of our soldiers for a pointless war.
I also think it is interesting to point out that during the largest part of the protest years during the counterculture movement, that being the late 1960’s, that the country somehow managed to elect a Republican president, that being Richard Nixon in 1968. Yet nothing – NOTHING- about politics, the war, or anything of the sort was even remotely mentioned in the film Easy Rider. I mention this because, as previously stated in my comment about Peter Fonda, he stated “that we (Fonda and Hopper) had lives to live that could contribute to our country, our cause. Dennis is a full Repo (Republican) now; voted for Bush-Quayle. If anything, IVe gone in the other direction, taking Jefferson’s instructions to ‘alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government. ” Really?
If anything I would have thought would have come from Fonda regarding this film, as a result of that comment alone, would have been ANYTHING of a statement, a stand – something – in the form of peace or anti-war as a contribution to his cause, his country. It’s hard to know what to make of this statement coming from Peter Fonda, but I guess as a first time filmmaker, they chose to make an attempt to portray a lifestyle instead of make a statement. Nevertheless, I believe the themes in Easy Rider and the documentary Woodstock: 3 Day of Peace and Music are quite similar in many ways. Each film portrays a contingent of people who seem to have the courage to forfeit all that is structured and seemingly normal, a need to express the freedom from various inhibitions, and the acceptance of people who are unlike others who have been labeled as outcasts from society.
Yet almost shockingly, unlike the Woodstock documentary, there was a vast difference in a couple of things between the two: while there was plenty of drug use in each film, there were two things notably absent in Easy Rider that there was plenty of in the Woodstock documentary: nudity and the use of profanity. I realize that the Woodstock documentary is non- fiction, which depicted real life situation as they were happening. And other than a couple of brief ‘bathing scenes in Easy Rider, which revealed next to nothing in the way of nudity, the film was Just as absent of the usual and expected dialogue from this generation, which I found strange.