Biskind’s chapter “What Made Us Right?” from the book “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” describes the ascension of counter-cultural ideas and filmmaking into the pantheons of mainstream Hollywood studio productions. The initial journey of these ideas is illustrated with the introductions to Bob Rafaelson and Bert Schneider, two aspiring filmmakers strongly influenced by the French New Wave who believed that the American studio system did not allow for a director to fully express themselves and wanted to change that. They were far from counter-cultural icons (“Bob liked Bert precisely because he had short hair and did not smoke dope” pg. 52) but soon became that after their move to Los Angeles and success with their creation, The Monkees.
The Monkees gave Rafaelson and Schneider power and influence, but they grew to resent the group and what it meant to them – an unoriginal Beatles clone that only served to pay their bills. The Monkees’ mainstream success was like ‘selling out’ to Bob and Bert and in Head they tried to erase that by parodying it. The opening lyrics to the film display this (“He, hey, we are The Monkees/You know we love to please/A manufactured image/With no philosophies.“)
The studios had lost touch with the youth audience, an extension of the generational gap seen between baby boomers and their parents in the 1960s. The successful studio pictures of old (big budget blockbuster period epics) were flailing and when films like Head and Easy Rider come out and start to make money, studios went from “…shaking their heads in incomprehension to nodding their heads in incomprehension.” (pg 73) These films drastically differed from the recent studio films by portraying real, contemporary America. This element of realism shows through in Easy Rider – to what extent are Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson acting as themselves? Nicholson allegedly smoked real marijuana for the campfire scene where he talks about Venetian invasion. Most famously however, as the article points out, is the LSD trip scene at the end where Peter Fonda is having a very real, emotional moment in regards to his feelings towards his mother.
I also found there was an element of caution in this chapter – the extreme and often unbelievable antics of Dennis Hopper seem to warn against what may happen when the director is given too much power. There needs to be a happy medium where the producer is not stifling the director’s creativity on the film, but also one where the power structure does not allow for unchecked egomania.
The late 60s and the resulting New Hollywood represented a time where both studios and directors were ‘happy’ – studios were making money in an area they were flailing and the directors were able to have creative control over their films.