Wasn’t Born to Follow: RIP Peter Fonda


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It’s ironic that on this, the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival, one of our biggest counter-culture icons has passed away. When I saw Peter Fonda had died at age 79, my first reaction was, “Gee, I didn’t know he was that old” (while sitting in an audience waiting for a concert by 72 -year-old Dennis DeYoung of Styx fame!). But we don’t really think of our pop culture heroes as ever aging, do we? I mean, c’mon… how could EASY RIDER’s Wyatt (aka Captain America) possibly be 79??

Be that as it may, Peter Fonda was born into Hollywood royalty February 23. 1940. Henry Fonda was already a star before Peter arrived, thanks to classics like YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE, JEZEBEL, YOUNG MR. LINCOLN, DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK, and THE GRAPES OF WRATH (released a month before Peter’s birth). Henry has often been described as cold and aloof, not…

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Music Video Of The Day: Loaded by Primal Scream (1992, directed by ????)


“Just what is it that you want to do?”

“We wanna get loaded and we wanna have a good time”

That, of course, is Peter Fonda who is heard at the start of Primal Scream’s Loaded.  This vocal sample was lifted from the 1966 biker film, The Wild Angels.  Peter Fonda played Heavenly Blues.  Nancy Sinatra was Mike.  Together, they had a very good time.  The biking legacy of Heavenly Blues is continued in the video for the song.

As a result of this song, like a lot of 90s kids, I could perfectly quote Peter Fonda’s speech even though I didn’t even know that it was taken from a movie.  (I think most of us assumed it was just a member of the band saying something cool.)  It wasn’t until years later that I would watch The Wild Angels and I would discover just exactly who it was who wanted to get loaded and where they wanted to do it.

Loaded started out as a remix of a previous Primal Scream song, I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have.  Producer Andrew Weatherall added in not only Peter Fonda’s speech from The Wild Angels but also a vocal sample from The Emotions’ I Don’t Want To Lose Your Love, a drum loop from Edie Brickell’s What I Am, and also Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie singing a line from Robert Johnson’s Terraplane Blues.  Years later, Gillespie would tell an interviewer from NME that he wasn’t sure how he managed to clear the rights for all the samples but that if he hadn’t, Primal Scream never would have become the success that it did.  Loaded would go on to become Primal Scream’s first top 10 hit in the UK and, in many ways, it remains their signature song.

All thanks to Peter Fonda.

R.I.P.

Peter Fonda, Rest In Peace


Peter Fonda has died from complications due to lung cancer.  He was 79 years old.

As an actor, Peter Fonda never got as much respect as the rest of this family.  Unlike his sister or his father, he never won an Academy Award, though he was nominated for two of them (one for writing Easy Rider and another for starring in Ulee’s Gold).  During the late 80s and the 90s, he was better known for being Bridget Fonda’s father than for the majority of the films that he appeared in during that time.  While the rest of his family was appearing in prestige pictures and working with directors like Fred Zinnemann, Sidney Lumet, William Wyler, Francis Ford Coppola, and Quentin Tarantino, Peter Fonda spent most of his career appearing in B-movies.  But today, many of those B-movies are more fondly remembered than the big films that he missed out on.

Peter Fonda made his film debut in 1963, playing the romantic lead in Tammy and the Doctor.  Fonda hated the film and often called it Tammy and the Schmuckface.  After that less-than-stellar beginning, Peter went on to find his groove as a lifelong member of the Hollywood counterculture.  In the classic biker film, The Wild Angels, he played Heavenly Blues and let the world know that all he wanted to do was “get loaded and have a good time.”  In The Trip, he played a disillusioned television director whose world is turned upside down by acid.

And then there was Easy Rider.  In this seminal independent film from 1969, Peter played Wyatt, a.k.a. Captain America.  Wyatt was the biker and drug smuggler who went “searching for America and couldn’t find it.”  This was Peter Fonda’s most famous role.  Along with acting in the film, he also produced it and co-wrote it.  (He was also responsible for keeping Dennis Hopper under control.  Or, at least as under control as anyone could keep Dennis Hopper in 1969.)  The role made Peter Fonda a symbol of rebellion, an American icon riding across the desert with the American Flag literally on his back.  Today, we still debate what Wyatt meant when he said, “We blew it.”  Peter Fonda, himself, later said that he was delivering the line as himself and not as Wyatt because he was convinced that Easy Rider would be a career-ending flop.

In the 70s and 80s, Fonda continued to play rebels.  His subsequent films were never as successful as Easy Rider, though many of them are still entertaining.  Peter made his directorial debut in 1971, with The Hired Hand, an elegiac and thoughtful Western in which Peter co-starred with another cult icon, Warren Oates.  Years later, Fonda would be among the many celebrities who made a cameo appearance in The Cannonball Run.  Of course, Peter played a biker and he got to fight Jackie Chan.

In the 90s, Peter Fonda played a lot of old hippies in many forgettable films.  However, in that decade, he also gave two of his best performances.  In The Limey, Fonda played the music producer who Terrence Stamp holds responsible for the death of his daughter.  And, in Ulee’s Gold, Fonda played a cantankerous bee keeper who finds himself taking care of his two granddaughters.  It was a role that many could imagine having once been played by Henry Fonda.  For Ulee’s Gold, Peter was nominated for an Oscar.  He lost to his co-star from Easy Rider, Jack Nicholson.

Peter Fonda continued to work up until his death.  With his passing, America loses another screen icon and a man who epitomized an era.  Rest in Peace.

Drive-In Saturday Night 4: WHITE LINE FEVER (Columbia 1975) & HIGH-BALLIN’ (AIP 1978)


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Breaker One-Nine, Breaker One-Nine, it’s time to put the hammer down with a pair of Trucksploitation flicks from the sensational 70’s! The CB/Trucker Craze came to be because of two things: the gas crisis of 1973 and the implementation of the new 55 MPH highway speed limit imposed by Big Brother your friendly Federal government. Long-haul truckers used Citizen’s Band radios to give each other updates on nearby fueling stations and speed traps set up by “Smokeys” (aka cops), and the rest of America followed suit.

Country singer C.W. McCall had a massive #1 hit based on CB/trucker lingo with “Convoy”, and the trucker fad was in full swing. There had been trucker movies made before – THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT, THIEVES’ HIGHWAY, HELL DRIVERS, and THE WAGES OF FEAR come to mind – but Jonathan Kaplan’s 1975 WHITE LINE FEVER was the first to piggy-back on the new gearjammer…

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Horror Film Review: Nadja (dir by Michael Michael Almereyda)


When we first meet Nadja (Elina Löwensohn), the title character of this odd, 1994 film, she is walking around New York, wearing a cape and picking up men in bars.  She speaks with a thick, Eastern European accent and when she’s asked what she does, she explains that she comes from an old and very wealthy Romanian family.  As we quickly guess, Nadja has lived for centuries.  She’s a vampire, a daughter of Count Dracula.  Everything she says and everything she does is drenched in the ennui of someone who wishes to be set free but who knows she is destined to live forever in the prison of her existence.  Even when she has visions of her father getting a stake through the heart, it doesn’t provide her with the relief for which she was hoping.

It probably won’t come as a surprise to learn that it was a member of the Helsing family that drove the stake through Dracula’s heart.  However, having killed the vampire, Van Helsing (Peter Fonda) finds himself in trouble with the police.  Apparently, the cops don’t believe Van Helsing when he insists that he was just killing a vampire.  As far as they can tell, Van Helsing just killed a man with a sharp piece of wood.  Fortunately, Van Helsing’s nephew, Jim (Martin Donavon), also lives in New York and can bail his uncle out of jail.

While Jim is dealing with his uncle, Nadja is meeting a woman in a bar, a woman named Lucy (Galaxy Craze).  Both Lucy and Nadja feel empty and unfulfilled.  Lucy, who happens to be married to Jim, is soon inviting Nadja back to her home and becoming obsessed with her.  However, Nadja is more concerned with her brother, Edgar (Jared Harris).  Edgar lives in Brooklyn with his lover and nurse, Cassandra (Suzy Amis).  When Nadja visits Edgar, she decides to take Cassandra away from him.  Of course, Cassandra just happens to be Van Helsing’s daughter and Jim’s cousin!

Nadja is an odd film.  On the one hand, it’s pretentious in the way that only a mid-90s, New York art film can be.  Director Michael Almereyda shot the majority of film at night and a good deal of it with a PXL-2000, which was basically a toy video camera that was specifically marketed to children.  As a result, the black-and-white images are usually dark and grainy.  Sometimes, it’s a bit of struggle to tell just what exactly is happening on-screen.  And yet, at the same time, it kinda works.  Those hazy images, combined with the largely deadpan performances of the cast, give the film an undeniably dream-like feel.  When we see Nadja walking through the city, we feel her ennui and otherworldly presence.  At its best, the film achieves a hypnotic visual beauty.  If ever there was an American city that benefits from being filmed in grainy black-and-white, it’s New York City.

The film plays out like a satire of the typical decadent vampire film.  (Nadja even has a Renfield of very own.)  Nadja is so obviously a vampire that it’s impossible not to be amused by the fact that hardly anyone else seems to pick up on it.  However, the film’s most subversive element is Peter Fonda’s performance as Van Helsing.  With his long hair and a demented gleam in his eye, Fonda totally upends all our assumptions about who someone named Van Helsing should be.

In many ways, Nadja plays out like an elaborate inside joke but it’s just strange enough to always be watchable.  David Lynch, whose influence is obvious, has a cameo as a morgue attendant and he feels right at home.  This deadpan vampire film many not be for everyone but then again, few worthwhile films are.

Scenes that I Love: Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper Do Mardi Gras and Drop Acid in Easy Rider!


Today, a lot of people have traveled to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras.  Here’s hoping that they have a better time in the city than Billy (Dennis Hopper) and Wyatt (Peter Fonda) had in the 1969 film, Easy Rider.

The scenes below, featuring Hopper, Fonda, Karen Black, and the legendary Toni Basil were actually filmed at Mardi Gras in 1968.  These were among the first scenes that Hopper (making his directorial debut) shot for the film and reportedly, filming was so chaotic that they were also nearly the last scenes to be filmed.  As those who have seen Easy Rider know, Billy and Wyatt spend the entire movie trying to get to New Orleans so that they can visit a famous brothel.  Once they get there, they discover that absolutely nothing lives up to the legend.  The brothel is a sleazy mess.  Mardi Gras is full of bad vibes.  Wyatt has an amazingly bad LSD trip.  (Hopper convinced Fonda to really drop acid before filming the scene, which led some harrowing footage.)  After they leave New Orleans, Fonda and Hopper cross the border into Texas and promptly end up getting blown away by two rednecks in a pickup truck.

Welcome to the sixties!

In the scene below, we get actual footage of 1968’s Mardi Gras.  Just watch all the celebrants who stop to stare at the  camera.

And here is the infamous cemetery scene.  Fonda resisted doing it and the end result is not easy to watch but it’s also one of the most powerful moments in the entire film:

Get Your Motor Runnin’ with THE WILD ANGELS (AIP 1966)


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Roger Corman  kicked off the outlaw biker film genre with THE WILD ANGELS, setting the template for all biker flicks to come. Sure, there had been motorcycle movies before: Marlon Brando in THE WILD ONE and the low-budget MOTORCYCLE GANG spring to mind. But THE WILD ANGELS busted open box offices on the Grindhouse and Drive-In circuits, and soon an army of outlaw bikers roared into a theater near you! There was BORN LOSERS , DEVIL’S ANGELS, THE GLORY STOMPERS , REBEL ROUSERS, ANGELS FROM HELL, and dozens more straight into the mid-70’s, when the cycle cycle revved its last rev. But Corman’s saga of the freewheeling Angels  was there first; as always, Rapid Roger was the leader of the pack.

Our movie begins with the classic fuzz-tone guitar sound of Davie Allen, as Angels president Heavenly Blues (Peter Fonda ) rolls down the road to pick up club…

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