The New Hollywood movement was partly influenced by the European auteur cinema, as well as the 1960s counter-culture movement in America. These films eschewed many of the classic Hollywood narrative themes. Instead, these films embraced moral ambiguity, unique narrative structures, and a general embrace of the film director’s artistry. Two of the most prominent New Hollywood films are Easy Rider and Bonnie and Clyde. This essay examines how these films exemplify and problematize the accepted formal paradigm of classical narrative.
Easy Rider is today recognized as one of the seminal New Hollywood films. Produced in 1969, this film starred Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. Additionally, Hopper directed the film. The film gained its reputation for its popularity, but also for its stark rejection of the classical Hollywood narrative paradigm. Just as will later be witnessed in Bonnie and Clyde, Easy Rider problematizes the classical Hollywood narrative in-line with the broader social trends challenging traditional American culture. Indeed, Schneider (2010, p. 320) notes, “It defies as many conventions of American cinema as it does conventions of American social life.” One considers that the narrative progresses as the characters travel from the Pacific and interact with various characters. Rather than implementing a traditional plot, instead, the narrative focuses on these specific interactions as a counter-cultural statement on American society. While the classic Hollywood paradigm had long embraced values of American exceptionalism or at least a subtle patriotism, this film criticizes American values. One considers the scene when Wyatt and Billy meet the hitchhiker and take him to his commune. Rather than embracing traditional American values, this portion of the narrative emphasizes the counter-cultural elements of the individuals. For instance, when Billy and Wyatt encounter the hitchhiker he says to them, “the people this place belongs to are buried under here.” This statement obviously refers to the deceased Indians and is again a counter-cultural statement. As the bikers get back to the camp they discover that the individuals grow all their own food, live in a commune, and seem to emphasize free love. Again these elements resist traditional Hollywood concerns.