Easy Rider: Plus crétin que moi tu meurs ! (Through a grass curtain: Will the real cretin stand up ?)

http://careersecretsauce.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/easy-rider-redneck.jpgLorsque j’étais enfant, je parlais comme un enfant, je pensais comme un enfant, je raisonnais comme un enfant; lorsque je suis devenu homme, j’ai fait disparaître ce qui était de l’enfant.Aujourd’hui nous voyons au moyen d’un miroir, d’une manière obscure, mais alors nous verrons face à face; aujourd’hui je connais en partie, mais alors je connaîtrai comme j’ai été connu. Paul (première lettre aux Corinthiens 13: 12)
J’ai résumé L’Étranger, il y a longtemps, par une phrase dont je reconnais qu’elle est très paradoxale : “Dans notre société tout homme qui ne pleure pas à l’enterrement de sa mère risque d’être condamné à mort.” Je voulais dire seulement que le héros du livre est condamné parce qu’il ne joue pas le jeu. En ce sens, il est étranger à la société où il vit, où il erre, en marge, dans les faubourgs de la vie privée, solitaire, sensuelle. Et c’est pourquoi des lecteurs ont été tentés de le considérer comme une épave. On aura cependant une idée plus exacte du personnage, plus conforme en tout cas aux intentions de son auteur, si l’on se demande en quoi Meursault ne joue pas le jeu. La réponse est simple : il refuse de mentir.  (…) Meursault, pour moi, n’est donc pas une épave, mais un homme pauvre et nu, amoureux du soleil qui ne laisse pas d’ombres. Loin qu’il soit privé de toute sensibilité, une passion profonde parce que tenace, l’anime : la passion de l’absolu et de la vérité. Il s’agit d’une vérité encore négative, la vérité d’être et de sentir, mais sans laquelle nulle conquête sur soi et sur le monde ne sera jamais possible. On ne se tromperait donc pas beaucoup en lisant, dans L’Étranger, l’histoire d’un homme qui, sans aucune attitude héroïque, accepte de mourir pour la vérité. Il m’est arrivé de dire aussi, et toujours paradoxalement, que j’avais essayé de figurer, dans mon personnage, le seul Christ que nous méritions. On comprendra, après mes explications, que je l’aie dit sans aucune intention de blasphème et seulement avec l’affection un peu ironique qu’un artiste a le droit d’éprouver à l’égard des personnages de sa création. Camus (préface américaine à L’Etranger)
Personne ne nous fera croire que l’appareil judiciaire d’un Etat moderne prend réellement pour objet l’extermination des petits bureaucrates qui s’adonnent au café au lait, aux films de Fernandel et aux passades amoureuses avec la secrétaire du patron. René Girard
Le thème du poète maudit né dans une société marchande (…) s’est durci dans un préjugé qui finit par vouloir qu’on ne puisse être un grand artiste que contre la société de son temps, quelle qu’elle soit. Légitime à l’origine quand il affirmait qu’un artiste véritable ne pouvait composer avec le monde de l’argent, le principe est devenu faux lorsqu’on en a tiré qu’un artiste ne pouvait s’affirmer qu’en étant contre toute chose en général. Albert Camus
Au héros du plus grand désir succède le héros du moindre désir. (…) Le non-désir redevient privilège, comme chez le sage antique ou le saint du christianisme. Mais le sujet désirant recule, effrayé devant l’idée du renoncement absolu. Il cherche des échappatoires. Il veut se composer un personnage chez qui l’absence de désir ne soit pas conquise, péniblement, sur l’anarchie des instincts et la passion métaphysique. Le héros somnambulique créé par les romanciers américains est la « solution » de ce problème. Le non-désir de ce héros ne rappelle en rien le triomphe de l’esprit sur les forces mauvaises, ni cette ascèse que prônent les grandes religions et les humanismes supérieurs. Il rappelle plutôt un engourdissement des sens, une perte totale ou partielle de la curiosité vitale. Dans le cas de Meursault, cet état « privilégié » se confond avec la pure essence individuelle. Dans le cas de Roquentin, c’est une grâce soudaine qui, sans qu’on sache pourquoi, descend sur le héros sous forme de nausée. (…) Le héros parvient alors à un état d’abrutissement lucide qui constitue la dernière des poses romantiques. Ce non-désir n’a rien à voir, bien entendu, avec l’abstinence et la sobriété. Mais le héros prétend accomplir dans l’indifférence, par simple caprice et presque sans s’en apercevoir, tout ce que les Autres accomplissent par désir.  René Girard (Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque, 1961)
What I take to be the film’s statement (upper case). This has to do with the threat that people like the nonconforming Wyatt and Billy represent to the ordinary, self-righteous, inhibited folk that are the Real America. Wyatt and Billy, says the lawyer, represent freedom; ergo, says the film, they must be destroyed. If there is any irony in this supposition, I was unable to detect it in the screenplay written by Fonda, Hopper and Terry Southern. Wyatt and Billy don’t seem particularly free, not if the only way they can face the world is through a grass curtain. As written and played, they are lumps of gentle clay, vacuous, romantic symbols, dressed in cycle drag. The NYT (1969)
Since Easy Rider is the film that is said finally to separate the men from the boys – at a time when the generation gap has placed a stigma on being a man – I want to point out that those who make heroes of Wyatt and Billy (played by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper) have a reasonably acrid dose to swallow at the start of the picture. Wyatt and Billy (names borrowed from the fumigated memory of the two outlaws of the Old West) make the bankroll on which they hope to live a life of easy-riding freedom by smuggling a considerable quantity of heroin across from Mexico and selling it to a nutty looking addict in a goon-chauffered Rolls Royce. Pulling off one big job and thereafter living in virtuous indolence is a fairly common dream of criminals, and dope peddling is a particularly unappetizing way of doing it. Is it thought O.K. on the other side of the gap, to buy freedom at that price? If so, grooving youth has a wealth of conscience to spend. (…) Wyatt and Billy are presented as attractive and enviable; gentle, courteous, peaceable, sliding through the heroic Western landscape on their luxurious touring motorcycles (with the swag hidden in one of the gas tanks). It is true that they come to a bloody end, gunned down by a couple of Southern rednecks for their long hair. But it is not retribution; indeed, they might have passed safely if the cretins in the pickup truck had realized that they were big traders on holiday. (…) The hate is that of Fonda, Hopper and Southern, they hate the element in American life that tries to destroy anyone who fails to conform, who demands to ride free. And it is quite right that they should. But Wyatt and Billy are more rigidly conformist, their life more narrowly obsessive than that of any broker’s clerk on the nine to five. The Nation (2008)

Attention: un crétin peut en cacher un autre !

A l’heure où la science redécouvre l’importance du simple sel de table (iodé) …

Tant pour une Amérique rendue plus intelligente que pour une Europe en voie peut-être de lente crétinisation …

Retour, via l’un des films américains les plus influents de sa génération, sur l’une des plus célèbres images cinématographiques de crétinisme justement …

A savoir la fin tragique du film-étendard de la contreculture « Easy Rider » …

Où, près de 20 ans après le « Sur la route » de Jack Kerouac et via la chevauchée à moto de deux hors la loi (financée par la vente d’héroïne au Mexique par les biens nommés Wyatt – Earp – et Billie – the kid- ), un Dennis Hopper tout juste sorti du tournage de «  »True Grit » où il jouait le rôle d’un voleur de chevaux opposé à John Wayne …

Présentait,  derrière certes la magnificence des paysages et de la musique, sa vision d’une Amérique prétendument réelle et notamment représentée par les fameux et dument goitrés « rednecks » …

Prétendant, près de 40 ans après L’Etranger de Camus et près de 10 ans avant l’ « A bout de souffle » de Godard, que l’Amérique profonde aurait pu trouver quelque intérêt à l’extermination de petits malfrats chevelus qui s’adonnaient à la marijuana, à la musique rock et aux passades amoureuses dans les quartiers chauds de la Nouvelle-Orléans  …

Easy Rider’: A Statement on Film

Vincent Canby

The New York Times

July 15, 1969

« EASY RIDER, » which opened yesterday at the Beekman, is a motorcycle drama with decidedly superior airs about it. How else are we to approach a movie that advertises itself: « A man went looking for America. And couldn’t find it anywhere »? Right away you know that something superior is up, that somebody is making a statement, and you can bet your boots (cowboy, black leather) that it’s going to put down the whole rotten scene. What scene? Whose? Why? Man, I can’t tell you if you don’t know. What I mean to say is, if you don’t groove, you don’t groove. You might as well split.

I felt this way during the first half-hour of « Easy Rider, » and then, almost reluctantly, fell into the rhythm of the determinedly inarticu-late piece. Two not-so-young cyclists, Wyatt (Peter Fonda) who affects soft leather breeches and a Capt. America jacket, and Billy (Dennis Hopper), who looks like a perpetually stoned Buffalo Bill, are heading east from California toward New Orleans.

They don’t communicate with us, or each other, but after a while, it doesn’t seem to matter. They simply exist—they are bizarre comic strip characters with occasional balloons over their heads reading: « Like you’re doing your thing, » or some such. We accept them in their moving isolation, against the magnificent Southwestern landscapes of beige and green and pale blue.

They roll down macadam highways that look like black velvet ribbons, under skies of incredible purity, and the soundtrack rocks with oddly counterpointed emotions of Steppenwolf, the Byrds, the Electric Prunes — dark and smoky cries for liberation. Periodically, like a group taking a break, the cyclists stop (and so does the music) for quiet encounters—with a toothless rancher and his huge, happy family or with a commune of thin hippies, whose idyll seems ringed with unacknowledged desperation.

Suddenly, however, a strange thing happens. There comes on the scene a very real character and everything that has been accepted earlier as a sort of lyrical sense impression suddenly looks flat and foolish.

Wyatt and Billy are in a small Southern town—in jail for having disturbed the peace of a local parade—when they meet fellow-in-mate George Hanson (Jack Nicholson), a handsome, alcoholic young lawyer of good family and genially bad habits, a man whose only defense against life is a cheerful but not abject acceptance of it. As played by Nicholson, George Hanson is a marvelously realized character, who talks in a high, squeaky Southern accent and uses a phrase like « Lord have mercy! » the way another man might use a four-letter word.

Hanson gets the cyclists sprung from jail and then promptly joins them. He looks decidedly foolish, sitting on the back of Wyatt’s bike, wearing a seersucker jacket and his old football helmet, but he is completely happy and, ironically, the only person in the movie who seems to have a sense of what liberation and freedom are. There is joy and humor and sweetness when he smokes grass for the first time and expounds an elaborate theory as to how the Venutians have already conquered the world.

Nicholson is so good, in fact, that « Easy Rider » never quite recovers from his loss, even though he has had the rather thankless job of spelling out what I take to be the film’s statement (upper case). This has to do with the threat that people like the nonconforming Wyatt and Billy represent to the ordinary, self-righteous, inhibited folk that are the Real America. Wyatt and Billy, says the lawyer, represent freedom; ergo, says the film, they must be destroyed.

If there is any irony in this supposition, I was unable to detect it in the screenplay written by Fonda, Hopper and Terry Southern. Wyatt and Billy don’t seem particularly free, not if the only way they can face the world is through a grass curtain. As written and played, they are lumps of gentle clay, vacuous, romantic symbols, dressed in cycle drag.

« Easy Rider, » the first film to be directed by Dennis Hopper, won a special prize at this year’s Cannes festival as the best picture by a new director (there was only one other picture competing in that category).

With the exception of Nicholson, its good things are familiar things — the rock score, the lovely, sometimes impressionistic photography by Laszlo Kovacs, the faces of small-town America. These things not only are continually compelling but occasionally they dazzle the senses, if not the mind. 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.

EASY RIDER, written by Peter Fonda, Dennis Hooper and Terry Southern; directed by Mr. Hopper; produced by Mr. Fonda; presented by the Pando Company in association with Raybert Productions; released by Columbia Pictures. At the Beckman Theater, 65th Street at Second Avenue. Running time: 94 minutes. (The Motion Picture Association of America’s Production Code and Rating Administration classifies this film: « R—Restricted—persons under 16 not admitted, unless accompanied by parent or adult guardian »)

Wyatt . . . . . Peter Fonda

Billy . . . . . Dennis Hopper

George Hanson . . . . . Jack Nicholson

Rancher . . . . . Warren Finnerty

Stranger on Highway . . . . . Luke Askew

Lisa . . . . . Luana Anders

Karen . . . . . Karen Black

Voir aussi:

Easy Rider

Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper revved up their motorcycles and, like Jack Kerouac, inspired a generation of young people to hit the road.

Robert Hatch

Nation

December 8, 2008

Since Easy Rider is the film that is said finally to separate the men from the boys – at a time when the generation gap has placed a stigma on being a man – I want to point out that those who make heroes of Wyatt and Billy (played by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper) have a reasonably acrid dose to swallow at the start of the picture. Wyatt and Billy (names borrowed from the fumigated memory of the two outlaws of the Old West) make the bankroll on which they hope to live a life of easy-riding freedom by smuggling a considerable quantity of heroin across from Mexico and selling it to a nutty looking addict in a goon-chauffered Rolls Royce. Pulling off one big job and thereafter living in virtuous indolence is a fairly common dream of criminals, and dope peddling is a particularly unappetizing way of doing it. Is it thought O.K. on the other side of the gap, to buy freedom at that price? If so, grooving youth has a wealth of conscience to spend.

Clearly the makers of the film think it O.K., and they are Fonda, Hopper and Terry Southern, the very knowing, if no longer very young, trio who in various combinations wrote, directed and produced. Wyatt and Billy are presented as attractive and enviable; gentle, courteous, peaceable, sliding through the heroic Western landscape on their luxurious touring motorcycles (with the swag hidden in one of the gas tanks). It is true that they come to a bloody end, gunned down by a couple of Southen rednecks for their long hair. But it is not retribution; indeed, they might have passed safely if the cretins in the pickup truck had realized that they were big traders on holiday.

And another question I would like to shout across the gap is why, if these two are so freely doing their thing, they are so morose about it. They seem crushed speechless by melancholy, and though I Understand that taciturnity is the preferred style – each initiate being absorbed in his private secretions – I noticed that Wyatt and Billy came at least wanly to life when they picked up a rebellious and alcoholic young lawyer in a crossroads town (Jack Nicholson). His imagination, wit, curiosity and love of life seem effervescent (and he is only the rich-boy drunk of a very small town) by contrast with the flat impassivity of the others.

It is true that every night over their campfire Wyatt and Billy smoke pot, achieving thus a sudden irrational loquacity, accompanied by inane giggles. They pity friend George for his addiction to booze. But, so the script goes by these knowing men, when George is sober he is wide awake, when the other two are not high they are merely low, if indeed not half asleep. It may only be coincidence, and marijuana may yet be recognized as the cure for what ails us all, but the demeanor of Wyatt and Billy does not seem to prove the point.

I should say something of the picture. It is a beautiful evocation of America as a ribbon of road through magic lands. The scene unreels like a silky, hypnotic dream, because the odd effect of the strident rock and roll that blares from the sound track is to make the action seem wrapped in eerie silence. And the two men look like fair warning, outriders of apocalypse, as they glide past in their schizoid costumes (one dresses to hide oneself in fantasy) on their indolently powerful mantis-like bikes.

There is a beautifully sustained episode of suspended animation at a hippie commune, where again the air is gentled by pot, all human relationships seem easy and entertainers of abysmal incompetence absorb the benevolence of the chemically pleased. The tragedy is that these young have escaped from something genuinely destructive into something that is only an illusion of new birth. Americans are forever bruising themselves on utopia; now it is the turn of the flower children.

Once it reaches its destination, New Orleans, the picture falters, losing its momentum in a sequence of innocent larking with a pair of girls from the town’s finest bordello that suggests the film makers know more about motorcycle vagrancy than they do about the customs and manners of prostitution. There is also another of those strobe-and-free-association passages that attempt to approximate the subjective effects of LSD and succeed only in producing headaches.

And then follows quickly the concluding outburst of hate, really a repetition, since drunken George had died earlier in an encounter with the locals. The hate is that of Fonda, Hopper and Southern, they hate the element in American life that tries to destroy anyone who fails to conform, who demands to ride free. And it is quite right that they should. But Wyatt and Billy are more rigidly conformist, their life more narrowly obsessive than that of any broker’s clerk on the nine to five. The ads say they went looking for America and never found it, but what they really went looking for was freedom, and of course they never found it. Which is what Easy Rider seems to mean on my side of the generation gap. But I would rather know what it means to those on the other side, who stand in block-long lines all day and all night to see Wyatt and Billy, those cosmetic derivations from American myth.

Un commentaire pour Easy Rider: Plus crétin que moi tu meurs ! (Through a grass curtain: Will the real cretin stand up ?)

  1. […] l’Amérique profonde aurait pu trouver quelque intérêt à l’extermination de petits malfrats chevelus qui s’adonnaient à la marijuana, à la musique rock et aux passades amoureuses dans les […]

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