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Easy Rider at the Charles Theatre June 7 and 10

Given the May 29 death of actor/director/cultural lighting rod

, tonight and this Thursday the

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screens a 2009 restored print of Hopper's directorial debut and 1969 zeitgeist,

Easy Rider

. Today

Easy Rider

isn't the outright curve-ball oddity it was when it first hit screens. Roger Ebert's

does a pretty good job articulating the counter-cultural youth/establishment divide that greeted the movie (see also:

). The movie earned Hopper the

Prix de la première œuvre

for a debut movie at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival and went on to score Jack Nicholson a Best Supporting actor nod and an original screenplay nomination; it also fared

. And while it definitely moves and feels like a 1960s artifact, its tangential articulation and thorny ideals still have a few things to say about envisioning life as Us. vs. Them. The plot, such as it is, involves two bikers, Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Hopper), who open the movie making a big cocaine deal (selling to a Rolls-Royce driving Phil Spector) and using their earnings to finance their motorcycle trip from Los Angeles to Florida via New Orleans and Madri Gras.

Rider

is ostensibly their physical journey cross-country and their search for freedom--or something like that. What follows is a both self-consciously impressionistic--cinematographer Lazlo Kovacs shot scenes with an unfussy realism, and editor Donn Cambern at times rhythmically cut the footage with then popular rock songs--and road movie mundane. Wyatt and Billy travel though the southwest and south and pop into American hamlets dotting the highways, where they encounter people living in a commune and an alcoholic ACLU lawyer (the blithe Nicholson), before landing in New Orleans in time for a hallucinogenic Mardi Gras experience accompanied by Karen Black and

. With a script by Terry Southern, however,

Easy Rider

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is often as ambiguous in its attitude toward self-identified rebels as is it with what we'd now call the general population of the flyover states, and the movie never quite takes a side.

Easy Rider

undoubtedly touched a nerve, though, becoming a reference point for a '60s ennui-qua-exhaustion, and can remain as argumentatively volatile today. The movie--in its cultural and behind-the-scenes stories--played a key role in

, Peter Biskind's 1998 dissection of 1970s Hollywood. And as

Dallas Observer

writer Robert Wilsonksky reported,

didn't reap the same level of career reward as some of its other players. Most curiously was its effect on Hopper's career. By the time he co-starred in and directed it, Hopper had already been in the movie/television business for 15 years.

Easy Rider

's success enabled him to direct again--the bizarre and financially troubled 1971

The Last Movie

--but between 1969's

Easy Rider

and Hopper's 1986-'87 Hollywood resurrection thanks to the acting trifecta of

Blue Velvet

,

River's Edge

, and

Hoosiers

, he had one of the most bizarre careers of the modern era. Following Hopper's death

Entertainment Weekly

ran a

that includes four indelible performances from this era:

The Last Movie

; 1977's

The American Friend

, Wim Wenders' very New German-cinema take on Patricia Highsmith's

Ripley's Game

; 1979's

Apocalypse Now

; and 1980's

Out of the Blue

. But these movies almost look like aberrations compared to everything else Hopper was doing. Those movies include an unfinished, still-unseen Orson Welles project (

The Other Side of the Wind

); an under-seen Bud Shrake-penned absurdist Western about a retired outlaw (Hopper) reduced to punching a clock in a town called Dime Box (

Kid Blue

, co-starring such other greats as Warren Oates, Peter Boyle, and Ben Johnson); a historical drama about a late 19th-century Australian hero outlaw (

Mad Dog Morgan

); Henry Jaglom's damaged Vietnam vet escorting the body of a dead friend home (

Tracks

); the genuinely risible portrait of a music producer (Hopper) responding to punk in Berlin (

Let it Rock

, aka

); Bigas Lunas' 1981 religious horror flick (

Reborn

); and, arguably most bizarre of all, 1985's

O.C. and Stiggs

--Robert Altman's teen sex comedy. Repeat:

Robert Altman's teen sex comedy

. Yes, there's a reason it wasn't talked about when Altman passed away in 2006. Easy Rider

screens at the Charles Theatre June 7 at 7 p.m. and June 10 at 9 p.m.

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