The 1969 movie Easy Rider was produced by Peter Fonda, directed by Dennis Hopper, and starred both of them plus a young Jack Nicholson. The counterculture biker film was made for a million dollars and made back $60 million, winning awards along the way. It’s a classic. But since Easy Rider is 47 years old, you most likely don’t know what went into making it. Now’s your chance to learn.
1. THE MOVIE WAS MADE FOR THE YOUTH OF THE TIME.
Before Easy Rider, Hollywood was churning out happier films starring the effervescent Doris Day, but Dennis Hopper’s film changed that. “They were making films like Pillow Talk and The Glass Bottom Boat. Gidget? That’s not a kids’ film. Beach Blanket Bingo? C’mon,” Fonda told The Hollywood Reporter. “Those were not really films of the youth that I had grown into and up with, shutting away the establishment, going on their own. We made a movie for these people that didn’t have their own movie.”
Karen Black, who played one of the prostitutes in the movie, agreed with Fonda’s sentiment. “When you went to see a movie like Easy Rider and when you saw these guys really smoking grass by the fire, and really the camaraderie was warm, real, and rare, you went, ‘What the hell am I looking at? This has value! This has a completely different kind of value than Pillow Talk,” she said in the documentary Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. “This is something extraordinary. I want more of that. And then I think it went a bit far, because I kept seeing movie people vomit.”
3. IT WAS ONE OF THE FIRST FILMS TO INTEGRATE FOUND MUSIC.
Instead of hiring a musician to compose a score for the film, Hopper decided to use pre-recorded music from Bob Dylan, The Band, Steppenwolf, and Jimi Hendrix on the soundtrack. “No one had really used found music in a movie before, except to play on radios or when someone was singing in a scene,” Hopper told Interview Magazine. “But I wanted Easy Rider to be kind of a time capsule for that period, so while I was editing the film I would listen to the radio. That’s where I got ‘Born to Be Wild’ and ‘The Pusher’ and all those songs.”
The filmmakers had to show the movie to the different bands involved in order to get licensing approval, and each band received $1000. They showed it to Dylan, whose song “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” was in two scenes, but Dylan said they couldn’t use it. “He said, ‘Have [Roger] McGuinn do this first part, but you can’t do it after that,’” Fonda told Daily Camera. “I said, ‘But, Bob, any good fight’s a combination of punches.” McGuinn covered Dylan’s song, and Dylan and McGuinn wrote the closing credit song, “The Ballad of Easy Rider,” which was sung by McGuinn, and didn’t have Dylan’s name on it.
If you haven’t seen Easy Rider, be aware that this trivia list at mental_floss contains spoilers, but that shouldn’t keep you from reading it, or watching the movie eventually.