On the night that I saw "Easy Rider," way back in early 1970, I nearly ran my car into a telephone pole.
I was with my brother, which is why I only "nearly" hit the pole. If he hadn't been there, I might have taken out a whole row of poles, used-car lots and apartment complexes. I was that angry.
I'll give Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper this much: Their movie caused me to coin a phrase. Anytime a movie ends in violence, I call it "an Easy Rider ending." I don't mean it as a compliment.
This isn't to say that "Easy Rider" doesn't have its qualities. It was revolutionary for its time. It turned Jack Nicholson into a star. It's grossed more than $60 million from a $360,000 production budget.
But … there's that ending.
You'll be able to judge for yourself, again if you've already seen it, when it celebrates it 50th anniversary by screening three times: at 4 p.m. on Sunday at 4 and 7 p.m. on Wednesday, July 17th, at the Regal Cinemas theater at Northtown Mall.
If you're questioning whether you ought to go, here are some critical comments to help you decide:
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: "It plays today more as a period piece than as living cinema, but it captures so surely the tone and look of that moment in time."
Vincent Canby, New York Times: "Hopper, Fonda and their friends went out into America looking for a movie and found instead a small, pious statement (upper case) about our society (upper case), which is sick (upper case). It's pretty but lower case cinema."
Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader: "The film may be a relic now, but it is a fascinating souvenir — particularly in its narcissism and fatalism — of how the hippie movement thought of itself."
(Quick note about Vincent Canby: He was a conservative critic, one who sometimes had a difficult time handling how radically cinema changed in the 1970s. But that doesn't mean that he was always wrong.)
Just be careful how you drive when leaving the theater.