Bikers and film buffs from across the US and Canada celebrated Dennis Hopper and his iconic counterculture film, Easy Rider, at a gathering in Taos New Mexico this weekend.
Dozens of motorcycles gathered Saturday in Ranchos de Taos, a historic square marked by dusty streets and adobe churches built like fortresses just 4 miles south of Taos. The pilgrims kicked off what town officials hope will be an annual event — Dennis Hopper Day — with a rally and ride through some of the settings that Easy Rider made famous.
The easy riders pulled their motorcycles out of the plaza just before 1 p.m, making their way up the two-lane road heading out of Taos, a diverse town known for skiing, art, and Hispanic and Native American culture. Snow-capped mountains served as a classic backdrop for much of this year’s ride, much like many of the shots in Easy Rider.
Saturday would have been Easy Rider director and actor Dennis Hopper’s 78th birthday. Hopper lived in Taos for years and is buried there. Town Manager Rick Bellis says the day is aimed at recognizing Hopper’s contributions as a longtime resident, filmmaker, an ardent supporter of the arts, and for simply being a “colorful member” of the Taos community.
“His image really represents the spirit of Taos,” Bellis said. “He was independent, slightly eccentric but incredibly talented. He sort of became a symbol for a whole new generation.”
A countercultural film that illustrates the spirit of the 1960’s in both the story it tells and the circumstances under which it was filmed, Easy Rider has been described by critics as a “touchstone for a generation” that “captured the national imagination.”
Hopper co-wrote Easy Rider with longtime collaborator and co-star Peter Fonda, along with Terry Southern. They shot the film on a shoestring budget and infamously used real drugs in many of the film’s scenes. Nevertheless, Easy Rider was not so much a success as it was a national phenomenon; a game changer that is widely credited with helping to usher in the American New Wave of Hollywood films like Bonnie and Clyde, Midnight Cowboy, Five Easy Pieces, and Cool Hand Luke.
“Nothing like this had ever been done before. It was a phenomenon,” said John Hellmann, an English professor and a member of the film studies program at Ohio State University.
Motorcycles, the call of the open road, and the spirit of rebellion have sustained the popularity of Easy Rider for over 40 years, and now town officials hope that the film and the legend of Dennis Hopper will continue to draw people to Taos.