New Orleans on film in honor of Killing Them Softly (4 of 5): Easy Rider

New Orleans on film in honor of Killing Them Softly (4 of 5): Easy Rider

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Killing Them Softly has us thinking of movies set in New Orleans.

Easy Rider (1969)
New Orleans is just one stop on the journey for Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper’s drug-rich bikers in Easy Rider, but it’s among their most memorable, and most troubling. Still haunted by the murder of Jack Nicholson, a traveling companion they picked up along the way, they arrive in time for Mardi Gras and set about honoring Nicholson’s memory by visiting a brothel he recommended. After picking up a pair of prostitutes (played by Karen Black and choreographer Toni Basil, the latter of whom later enjoyed a new wave-era hit with “Mickey”), they drop some acid given to them at a commune, then head for the cemetery to let it kick in. This turns out to be a mistake, leading to the bad trip to end all bad trips.

Behind the camera, Hopper indulges in every trick used by late-’60s filmmakers to simulate the drug experience. But even the scene’s soon-to-become-clichéd touches work: the dissonant sound effects, handheld camerawork, rapid cutting, weird lenses, and religious imagery. That’s in part because the setting, the overgrown, shadow-drenched St. Louis Cemetery #1 located near the French Quarter, is one of the eerier places in the city, and in part because the performances truly seem like the work of people in the grips of bad drugs and worse emotions. (Fonda’s rambling monologue draws directly from his real-life experiences with his mother’s suicide.) The film grows steadily darker leading up to its New Orleans sequence, and in the city, what little light remains gets blown out. When Fonda’s character later declares, “We blew it,” he might well be remembering something seen amid these graves.

Availability: Available on DVD and Blu-ray. Streaming at Amazon.

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