Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Easy Rider 40th anniversary celebration at ACMI

Easy Rider, courtesy: Sony Pictures

Newly restored print in celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Easy Rider 

"Fonda and Hopper's now-classic film hit the old guard with the force of a rifle shot to the head." - Austin Chronicle

"Someday it was inevitable that a great film would come along, utilizing the motorcycle genre, the same way the great Westerns suddenly made everyone realize they were a legitimate American art form, Easy Rider is the picture." - Chicago Sun-Times (September 28, 1969)

The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) celebrates 40 years of the landmark independent film Easy Rider with the newly restored print for an extended season this summer.

The season coincides with the Australian Premiere of the exhibition, Dennis Hopper and the New Hollywood, and a visit to ACMI by Dennis Hopper himself.

ACMI's Head of Film Programs, Richard Sowada, said this season is a tribute to more than the film. "ACMI is thrilled to be celebrating 40 years of East Rider by screening a restored print of this classic break-through work. In presenting this work, we are not just celebrating this film's legacy but acknowledging its role as a great turning point in filmmaking history."

"It's rare to a film this poignant. To capture the era is one thing, but to capture the state of mind is quite another," said Richard. "Easy Rider, to me, is like a wild explosion in a laboratory where the alchemist comes out with their hair standing on end and face blackened but holding a lump of gold. It's a crazy experiment that can never be duplicated."

Easy Rider premiered at the Cannes International Film Festival in 1969 and is today recognised as having had great cultural and historical significance. Easy Rider remains a favourite among cinefiles for its pioneering vision and similarly among motoring enthusiasts as the original 'road trip' film.

Originally titled, 'The Loners', Easy Rider is the brainchild of Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda. The film was Hopper's directorial debut and Fonda produced it. Originally both actors, Hopper and Fonda took on the lead roles. The screenplay was written by Hopper and Fonda with major screenwriting talent Terry Southern (although Southern's credit was later disputed).

Easy Rider is the adventure of Billy (played by Hopper, named after Billy the Kid) and Wyatt (played by Fonda and inspired by Captain America), two modern-day cowboys; hippie drug dealers rocketing across America on Harley Davidsons. Along the way, they pick up lawyer George Hanson, played Jack Nicholson in the role that secured him as a leading man of films to come. Eccentric, disgraced record mogul Phil Spector has a cameo as a 'connection'.

The making of the film was a tumultuous affair; stories of the production process are now embedded in film folklore. Filming began at Mardi Gras in New Orleans where most of the resources were expended and the shoot was universally regarded as a disaster by cast and crew, further marred by drug and alcohol-fuelled stoushes. An overall lack of organisation was not all negative though, and a high degree of improvisation during filming was encouraged which led to some of the key moments in the film and some iconic images being generated.

Drawn with visions of the American landscape (captured by now legendry Hollywood cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs) and evoking a sense of freedom, Easy Rider is the ultimate road movie, fittingly punctuated with a pulsating rock and roll soundtrack, including Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and Steppenwolf's Born To Be Wild.

Easy Rider is regarded as a document of the counter-culture movement and a landmark Hollywood film. As historical record it is a near-perfect reflection of the sex, drugs and rock-and-roll spirit of the age. For Hollywood, it signalled a breakthrough for independent film; Easy Rider was independently made, free of the restraints of the film studios which dominated play. Despite being independently funded and reportedly shot for US$340,000, it grossed an astonishing US$19million at the box office making it the highest grossing independent film of all time.

At the time of release the film was celebrated most notably with two Oscar nominations; Best Screenplay and Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Nicholson. More recently, the film was formally recognised as a film of great cultural and historical significance and in 1998 was added to the United States National Film Registry.

Still today the film is being celebrated with the 40th anniversary being marked by screenings of the restored print at festivals across the world. In New Mexico, the film opened the annual 'Summer of Love' festival, a celebration of hippie culture, with Hopper made 'Honorary Mayor' of Taos. Now a cult classic, Easy Rider is also acquiring a new generation of fans.

Easy Rider was part of a great watershed in American film making history; a revolutionary period where the great rebellion was gaining independence in filmmaking. The era, now known as the 'New Hollywood', was defined by a break in Hollywood conventions and recognition for independent producers and directors, bringing about new ways of making films and new types of films. Dennis Hopper was at the centre of this rebellion and ACMI's exhibition explores his role and legacy.

"This film is a great companion to the exhibition experience and not to be missed in its spectacular restored celluloid glory," said Richard.

The exhibition Dennis Hopper and the New Hollywood is on at ACMI from 12 November 2009 to 7 March 2010. Dennis Hopper will be at ACMI in Melbourne for the opening of the exhibition and talks and workshops. Focus on Dennis Hopper, a three-part film program runs from 3 - 13 December.

Don't miss this opportunity to see the original summer road-trip film, Easy Rider, when it screens at ACMI from 26 December 2009 to 18 January 2010.

"This is the sort of film you can smell pot smoke reek from the celluloid. You can feel your hair being tangled by the wind. You can feel the 80 degree water they bathe and skinny dip in. The film makes me feel like leaving the keyboard and just roaming the earth..." - Harry Knowles, Ain't It Cool News

Further information

Claire Butler
Communications Coordinator
[direct phone] 61 3 8663 2415 [fax] 61 3 8663 2498 [mobile] 0434 603 654
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