Thursday, December 08, 2011

EASY RIDER (1969) - Dennis Hopper

"Billy (the Kid)"

Friends and acquaintances are always asking me whether I think it's worth it to go Blu-ray when their regular DVD works just fine. My standard response is generally along the lines of: "Do you watch a lot of Hollywood movies with massive amounts of CGI?" Because that seems to be the medium's strongest attribute--rendering ornate but ultimately "phony" mise en scènes in the crispest lines and sharpest colors. After re-watching Easy Rider on Blu-ray for the first time, I may have to amend my question-answer...

"Do you want to see ALL the shades of pink and orange in the Southwestern sunset as Captain America and Billy ride their choppers across the country? Do you want to see EVERY grain of cocaine stuck in Hopper's brush mustache after he takes a bump of the 'good Mexican shit'?"

Some other things I noticed this time...

1.) Hopper's Hostility: I remembered Hopper's "Billy" as a perpetually stoned Sancho Panza, shadowing Fonda's "Captain America" Quixote with a chorus of "yeah, mans" and 'shroom-infused giggles. But, this time, I noticed just what a dick Billy can be. Whether he's in the background interrupting drifter Luke Askew's psychedelic non sequiturs around the campfire, getting too touchy-feeling with the hippie girls at the Colorado commune, rushing contemplative Wyatt to leave the commune for Mardi Gras, or talking about retiring to Florida on their drug deal earnings, Billy can be, well, kind of a frat-boy douche. Fonda's Captain America may represent the ideals of the '60s, but Hopper's Billy is most definitely the sign of bad, materialistic '70s things to come. That's probably why he has no clue when Fonda says: "We blew it."

2.) Nicholson Dies: I can't blame this one on the format, only my flagging memory. Even watching a lousy VHS copy, I should have picked up that Nicholson's boozy lawyer, George, dies after getting pummeled by rednecks at their camp site. I may not have caught the machetes or the high-definition blood on his forehead the first several times I saw it on grainy analog. But, come on, it's Jack! How did I not remember that George bought the farm?

3.) The Goiter: I did remember the giant goiter on the neck of the shotgun-wielding hick that blows Hopper off the road at the film's end. How could you not? It's he most perfect example of backwoods casting and iodine deficiency ever committed to film. But, man, does Blu-ray make that sucker pop! It just goes to show that the format's not all about highlighting digitally pristine images. It's also good for a second look-see at a classic film's ugly, ugly truths.

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