Peter Fonda as Wyatt, aka “Captain America”, freedom-loving biker
Across the southern United States from Los Angeles through Louisiana, February 1968
Film: Easy Rider
Release Date: July 14, 1969
Director: Dennis Hopper
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
When I learned the second Saturday of October is commemorated as National Motorcycle Ride Day, I realized I’d gone far too long without shining a sartorial lens on Dennis Hopper’s iconic cult classic, Easy Rider.
Conceptualized by Hopper, Fonda, and screenwriter Terry Southern, Easy Rider‘s chaotic production and controversial themes have been the product of considerable discussion since its release during that seminal summer of ’69. To some, it explores the death of the American dream through the concept of freedom, asking what it really means to be a free American.
Set to classic rock like The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix, Roger McGuinn, and Steppenwolf, we follow two bikers in their journey across the United States, from the open desert of the southwest into the close-knit conservative communities of the deep South. Hopper co-stars as the the mustached hippie rider Billy, but the arguable leader of the duo is the flag-bedecked Wyatt (Peter Fonda), celebrated by his pal as “Captain America”. After all, if a red, white, and blue-blooded Captain America can’t safely and freely ride across the nation, who can? Continue reading
Marlon Brando as Johnny Strabler, outlaw motorcycle club leader
Central California, Summer 1953
Film: The Wild One
Release Date: December 30, 1953
Director: László Benedek
“Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?”
This famous exchange originated among the actual biker gangs that producer Stanley Kramer had brought on set to play themselves. When Kramer asked what it was they were “rebelling” against, a member cracked back to him, “Well, whaddaya got?” The line so encapsulated the culture and attitude of bikers during the era that it was incorporated into The Wild One, though the question is posed by Mildred, the platinum blonde beauty salon operator that one of Johnny’s boys picked up in a bar.
Inspired by actual events over a rambunctious fourth of July weekend in Hollister, California, in 1947, The Wild One was based on Frank Rooney’s short story “The Cyclists’ Raid” that appeared in Harper’s magazine in January 1951. It was swiftly adapted for the screen, though the locations involved were changed to the fictional California burgs of Carbondale and Wrightsville, the latter being the “screwball town”—according to Dextro (Jerry Paris)—where most of the action takes place.
The credits are a bit misleading, introducing Marlon Brando to us as The Wild One, though his character Johnny Strabler turns out to be the most restrained of his hell-raising confederates, particularly when compared to the obnoxious pipsqueak Mouse (Gil Stratton), the larcenous, simple-minded Pigeon (Alvy Moore), or rival gang leader Chino (Lee Marvin). Continue reading