Provenance: this Letter to the Editor first appeared in The Union Recorder: The weekly newspaper of the University of Sydney Men’s Union: 28 April 1970. I was in my twenties at the time, and felt obliged to use my middle initial when I signed the letter, as a few years before an Australian writer called John Tranter (not me) had published a novel, «The Livin’ is Easy», in London. Transcribed by Corner Cottage Enterprises 2009, edited by John Tranter 2009. [Noted in my Journal on 2012/06/16.]
It’s heartwarming to find a verbally-oriented critic from the heart of the Academic Establishment responding in such a friendly and casual manner to a visually-oriented and predominantly anti-Establishment document, but one would feel a little more confident about Mr. Malouf’s response to Easy Rider if he had shown a closer awareness of its most obvious derivations.
The film’s violent success in the youth market is to a large degree dependent on the fact that it is a clear and convincing formulation of a theme that reached its peak in the last few years and which is centred around a group of loosely related concepts including a philosophy of tolerance, acceptance of others as they are, turning on, honest inter-personal involvement and adventure on the open road. The focus of this life-style is the American West Coast and it is not an exaggeration to say that this theme was imported to its present location in the mid-fifties by Kerouac et. al., documented in On the Road and The Dharma Bums in the late fifties and formed the foundation for the ‘hippy’ decade so well celebrated by Time magazine.
Kerouac’s most persistent concerns come on strong in his new incarnation: his obsession with fast, beautiful machinery barrelling along the highways of the American West, his “absolute tolerance and awareness of the otherness of things and people,” the loose life of freedom, pot and adventure and his creation of an informal non-art art vehicle with social and philosophical overtones.
The other side of the coin is, of course, The Wild Ones, where the dirty black-and-white bikies scarify the God-fearing folk of the typical American small town. Brando’s re-incarnation comes bearing the bright, joyful and revolutionary colours of the American flag in place of the black iron crucifix, to meet his doom at the hands of the McCarthyite yokels, in the neatest volte-face in American cinema.
Marry these two disparate concepts, add the current fashion-gloss of the updated ‘hippy’ image (the effect of the Madison Avenue processing of the original ‘beatnik’ seed sown by Kerouac and Ginsberg) and the line of succession is clear.
Mr. Malouf is to be admired for his dexterity in linking Fonda’s exercise in super-sophisticated cool tragedy (after all, the leading characters are murdered) with the film comedies of the thirties, but the barbiturate effect of such a comforting juxtaposition is purchased at the cost of a certain failure to appreciate the importance of the intervening variables: Fonda, though essentially a creature of the seventies, could not have existed without the youth revolution of the fifties.
John E. Tranter