Bright Lights Film Journal

On the Road to the Ninth Circle of Hell: Easy Rider Merges Lanes with Dante’s Inferno and Faust

How Easy Rider laid the groundwork for Wild Hogs

Easy Rider (1969), written by Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Terry Southern, is a film that carries much contemporary cultural and aesthetic heft. But Easy Rider is also an excellent guide on how to incorporate great classic literature into a film, from themes down to details, yet maintain modern relevance and resonance. In great part Easy Rider is an adaptation of Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century poem Inferno. More than tracing Inferno’s text, many parts of the film are inspired by 19th-century Inferno illustrations drawn by Gustave Doré. Indeed, Dennis Hopper, director of the film, finds satisfaction, and some good humor, in his own close imitations of Doré-esque poses throughout the film. Additional textual influences on Easy Rider to be examined include The Tibetan Book of the Dead, the children’s book Paddle-to-the-Sea (1941), and the script for the unproduced film The Yin and the Yang (1966).

Inferno is the first part of Dante’s Divine Comedy, composed of three parts: Inferno (hell), Purgatorio (purgatory), and Paradiso (heaven). Dante himself, like Fonda and Hopper, is the protagonist traveler through Divine Comedy, itself a kind of road journey story. Through Inferno and Purgatorio Dante travels with the dead soul of the Roman poet Virgil, author of the Aeneid, it too in part a travel narrative. In Easy Rider Wyatt, played by Fonda, is the thoughtful partner. His name evokes Wild West lawman Wyatt Earp. He also goes by the moniker Captain America, the comic book superhero. Hopper plays Billy. The two characters bear several cultural resonances. But the foremost source for their relationship is a fictional pair of likeable Wild West semi-outlaws. Like the Riders, these two are friends, partners, and similar age. One is smart, the other is comic. The foremost fictional source for the Riders as a pair are Cisco and Pancho from the 1950s television series The Cisco Kid.1 Note the similarity in their clothing, nothing like Captain America’s:

Billy wears colors like Pancho. But he also dons a buckskin shirt like the Lone Ranger’s partner Tonto.2 Fonda designed Wyatt’s costume. Sewn onto the back of his black leather jacket is an American flag. In his autobiography Don’t Tell Dad (1998), Fonda says he took this design idea from the film Flying Tigers (1942). The Flying Tigers were an American outfit who operated Republic of China fighter planes during World War II. Fonda writes:

The idea for the flag on my jacket came from a John Wayne movie, [. . .] in which Wayne wears a jacket with the Chinese Nationalist flag sewn on the back, with Chinese characters printed below it saying “I am an American pilot fighting the Japanese, please give me assistance.” I’d seen the film years earlier and thought the flag was a great icon.3

Fonda says wearing the flag in such manner was an unusual, provocative statement at the time. While motorcycling around Los Angeles — before the film was released — he was pulled over and hassled by police several times. Fonda notes with irony that not long after the release of the film, “all cops, throughout the country, had the flag on their uniforms, cars, anything they could put it on. The little victories.”4

Faust

Easy Rider begins with a drug deal in Mexico for a large amount of cocaine. The transaction goes down in a junkyard. Fonda says the juxtaposition was intended, “Scoring junk in a junkyard.”5) Next we see the Riders on a service road at the end of a Los Angeles International Airport runway. They are waiting for their “connection,” the buyer of the cocaine they smuggled into America. A Rolls-Royce arrives. Inside the car is the buyer. It is the Devil himself, ably represented by Phil Spector. Spector’s bodyguard bears a cane tipped with a death’s head finial to add a morbid touch.

This drug deal is a “deal with the Devil.” The essence of a Faustian bargain is the selling of a future interest in one’s soul, to be delivered to the Devil, in return for a benefit to be enjoyed for a limited time beforehand. In Christopher Marlowe’s Elizabethan-era play Doctor Faustus, the protagonist gets twenty-four years before his due date in hell. Wyatt and Billy get about seven days of high-living. Seven days to experience their ill-financed freedom, travelling the full length of Dante’s hell. Their journey is transcontinental, from west to east. When they reach Florida, Billy will say, “We did it. We’re rich, man. We’re retired in Florida now, mister.” But Billy is deceived. Unlike Dante, who is only a tourist in hell, the Riders will not be leaving it. They are Fausts, and the Devil will get his due.

Inferno

After the transaction with the Phil Spector-Devil (great casting!), the Riders drive a pickup truck on a rough stretch of road in eastern California’s Mojave Desert. The desert floor turns fiery orange because the film is, well, about hell, and the usual conception of the place is fiery. The color effect also harks back to a similar glare-filled vista that Cisco and Pancho ride through in The Cisco Kid’s opening credits.

There are many flames in Easy Rider. The first flames we see are painted on a motorcycle gasoline tank in the Riders’ desert hideout. The camera glides over the tank and follows a plastic tube. Another gas tank comes into view, this one bearing the Stars and Stripes. The symbolic representation is the flow of drug money from hell into America. Wyatt is stuffing the tube with cash, the proceeds from the Devil. The background music is “The Pusher” by Steppenwolf, which includes the lyric, “God damn the Pusher man.”

Gate of Hell

The film’s first Dante-esque vision is the Gate of Hell. For Dante, it is a rock formation carved with the words “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” In Easy Rider the Gate of Hell is adobe pillars, remnants of a Mojave ghost town structure. Wyatt appears on the bike with the American flag tank, Billy on the one with flames. The motorcycle emergence, short stop, and onward desert bike ride resemble, again, the opening credits scenes of the The Cisco Kid. Another possible influence is the pillar-like rock formation at the Gate of Hell in the 1911 Italian film L’Inferno.

I have in my possession a version of Easy Rider’s script, known as the “Easy Rider, 55th Street Draft.” It was graciously provided to me by the Terry Southern Trust, Susan Schulman, A Literary Agency, and Nile Southern.6 This draft exhibits various Inferno elements not evident in the final cut of the film. For example, there are no ghost town pillars in the 55th Street draft, but there is a gate of hell:

CAMERA HOLDS on exterior of the tin shed. Out of silence there is a sudden loud ROAR of an engine; the tin QUONSET HUT visibly shakes under the pressure of the engine, and suddenly, out of the dark doorway, the fantastic chrome motorcycle LEAPS into the bright sunlight, like a bull out of the chute. Wyatt circles and comes back to where Billy has left their sleeping rolls. He revs the engine and then turns off his ignition, as Billy come out of the dark doorway astride his flame-painted bike, circles and joins Wyatt, revs it up; kills it, and they start to prepare for their long journey.

The Quonset’s doorway is a gate to hell. Easy Rider’s writers were likely inspired by Doré’s illustration of the gate to hell, which has a Quonset-like oval-domed opening. The adobe pillars may have been fortuitously found while on the road shooting the film, or a discovery made by Hopper on his road trip across the American West and Louisiana to scout locations. But whether the gate is pillars or a Quonset, the Riders are not technically in hell yet. In Dante’s underworld there is a space between hell’s gate and its first circle, the “real” hell. This gap is sometimes called the “vestibule.” It is like an entrance lobby to a large building. This region is populated with the souls of persons who made no commitments in life. It is also where angels dwell who did not take either God’s side or the Devil’s in the “War in the Heavens.” We see no one here but the Riders riding through.

The Acheron River

The Acheron River is the outer border of the first circle of hell. The Colorado River stands for it in Easy Rider. Not only is the Colorado a notable river, it is a border too, separating California from Arizona. Director Hopper takes care to film the Arizona state-line marker. The camera zooms in on the old Route 66 arch truss bridge in the distance, a highway heavy with American travel lore. One can make a general inference that the film suggests that “America” is the Riders’ personal hell. But Peter Fonda, who undeniably is the source of the eastward travel story, is suggesting a more refined view. Not all of America is hell, just those parts east of California. In Don’t Tell Dad, Fonda says some harsh and interesting things about his own childhood exile from California to the “the Eastern front,” which will come up later as we travel through Easy Rider. Upon crossing the Colorado, the Riders enter the first circle of hell.

First Circle of Hell: Limbo

Canto 4 begins with Dante asleep:

A monstrous clap of thunder broke apart
the swoon that stuffed my head; like one awakened
by violent hands, I leaped up with a start. (4.1-3)7

Easy Rider reenacts this scene by having Wyatt demonstratively clap his hands to awaken Billy after their first night on the road. Billy leaps up only as Hopper could act it, wiping his “stuffed” forehead. The next lines align with Wyatt’s surveying of the landscape:

And having risen; rested and renewed,
I studied out the landmarks of the gloom
to find my bearings there as best I could. (4.4-6)

One of the objects Wyatt sees is an old compass. After this gloomy section on the outer edge, Dante’s first circle of hell is not such a bad place. Indeed, it can be quite pleasant and green. Its denizens are the souls of just and good people and children who died without Christian salvation or baptism. Notable inhabitants include Homer, Horace, Ovid, Caesar, and Avicenna. Virgil himself resides here. In one passage Virgil refers to the event called the “Harrowing of Hell.” This is Christ’s brief descent into hell after the crucifixion. Upon leaving hell Christ takes Old Testament figures such as Moses, David, and Rachel to heaven. The Harrowing of Hell comes up several times in The Divine Comedy, and will be liturgically visited later in Easy Rider’s sixth circle of hell.

Fitting for limbo, the Riders do a lot of floating around on bicycles, touring beautiful countryside almost aimlessly. They visit a ranch and have lunch with a family of ten: rancher, Indian wife and eight children. The Riders add two, and wash their hands in a basin in the fashion of a pre-Passover meal ritual. The twelve almost comprise a complete Last Supper setting. Why is this family in limbo? They are sinless; indeed the children are like angels. They are Christian too, perhaps chosen for contrast with Dante.

The Riders move on. They pick up a hippy hitchhiker, “the Stranger,” in the middle of a forest. He wears an embroidered patch depicting a lighthouse on his sleeve. He is Easy Rider’s Virgil, played by actor Luke Askew. In Inferno Dante meets Virgil in the middle of a forest too, but at an earlier stage. But the Riders are Fausts, not innocent tourists like Dante. They enter the Gate of Hell on their own causation, no guide needed. Interestingly, in L’Inferno, Virgil appears beside the path Dante is traveling using a palm movement a little similar to the American-style outstretched thumb hitchhiker gesture.

After an overnight campout in an ancient Indian burial ground, the Stranger takes the Riders to his commune. Approaching it on the road, he points to a hill. Dante writes the following:

       At last
we reached the base of a great Citadel
circled by seven towering battlements
and by a sweet brook flowing round them all. (4.106-108)

The commune is Inferno’s “great citadel” (sometimes translated “castle”) of estimable personages. (4.106) To impart the effect of battlements and an encircling brook, Easy Rider uses choice shots of the bikes cruising beside a stream and adobe walls.

The commune is populated with hippies. They are mostly idling about because that is what they do in Dante’s limbo, as depicted by Doré and L’Inferno. The Stranger docents a tour for the Riders like Virgil does for Dante in L’Inferno, itself influenced by an illustration of Carlo Muccioli. Doré’s illustration of hopeless souls laying about a large, bright boulder is paralleled in Easy Rider with a theatrical stage back-dropped with tan parachute fabric, and a nearby, flat-faced boulder. I think the parachute fabric was the product of set design, the boulder a piece of luck. The VW bus might have been a back-up stand-in boulder. Another evocative commune event is the communards’ stoic prayer scene. For me, it recalls Dante’s poetry, “With a solemn and majestic poise, stood many people gathered in the light, speaking infrequently and with muted voice.” (4.112-114)

One of Easy Rider’s communards is the Old Testament’s Joseph. Apparently the Harrowing of Hell missed saving Joseph because his coat of many colors is just too attractive not to use in a psychedelic-era film. In one scene Joseph stands among a collection of communards. Billy tries to enter this group, but is barred by a man holding a shaft that looks like a cross. Christian allusiveness is suggested, but the inspiration for the prop comes from a sword in one of Doré’s limbo illustrations. It depicts Dante’s acceptance into a circle of great classic thinkers. The sword bearer is Homer. (4.86-8) Unlike Dante, Billy is rejected from the circle. He retreats to the boulder, sits down, and folds his legs uncomfortably, just one of the many Dennis Hopper Doré-esque gestures in the film.

Second Circle of Hell: Lust

One of the characters in the commune is Cleopatra. But Cleopatra is not a denizen of limbo, like Electra and Camilla the Amazon queen. Rather, Cleo’s soul resides in Dante’s second circle of hell (5.64), the abode of lust.

The circles of limbo and lust overlay each other in Easy Rider. Upon alighting Wyatt’s motorcycle at the commune the Stranger changes his demeanor. We see him canoodling two women. It looks like there is some “free love” going on here.8 Perhaps this situation is inspired by Christ’s two imagined afterlife-wives in Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ (1953). It is not uncommon to find critics suggesting Wyatt or the Stranger are “Christ figures.”9 In a 1969 interview Hopper said, “Christ isn’t in the film,” but at the end of the film he thinks Wyatt and Billy represent the two thieves.10 There is an odd scene of hippies walking bizarrely back and forth upon a plot of bare land. They are strewing sand or soil onto the dry and rocky ground, an activity in poor imitation of the proper sowing of seed. They act so because they are in the second circle of hell where souls are tossed about by “a war of winds.” According to Dante, these souls are tossed, “Here, there, up, down the whirl and, whirling.” (5.43) Dante’s hell is replete with weird and grotesque scenes. Another one, perhaps echoed with the pacing hippies, are the souls of the dead rolling large weights back and forth in the fourth circle of hell. About the hippies’ slim agricultural prospects Billy observes, “This is nothing but sand . . . they ain’t gonna grow anything here.” Wyatt replies, “They’re going to make it.” Fonda regrets this hopeful phrase and wishes it was not in the film.11 However, I like it because it gives Billy one occasion to speak up as the wise one. Similarly, in the eighth circle of hell, there are a few occasions Dante seems to have a sharper grip on the situation than Virgil.

Another enigmatic commune scene is when actor Robert Walker, Jr. dances free-form, silently and alone, in front of the tan parachute fabric. In Don’t Tell Dad Fonda mentions that in the early 1960s he took a modern dance class that Walker, a friend, also attended. Fonda recalls, “While the rest of us were doing our best with a routine, I would see Bobby in the back, out there on a different trip. He was dancing, all right, but he was hearing a totally different drummer, on a count of his own.”12 There are many instances in Fonda’s autobiography, such as this dance class episode, that are not overtly connected to Easy Rider, but when the book is read with the film in mind, give insight into the film’s development and composition.

The circle of lust ends with a skinny dip in a fountain by a river. The Byrds’ beautiful record, “Wasn’t Born to Follow,” plays for the second time in the film. The swimming imagery compares well to the art of Doré and L’Inferno.

Third Circle of Hell: Gluttony

Limbo is left at the commune, lust at the fountain. The Riders proceed deeper and eastward into the third circle of hell, the abode of gluttons. For Dante, the sinners of this circle lay about helplessly on the ground, pelted by “the frozen rain of hell.” (6.9) Although there is no rain in Easy Rider, something similar bizarrely occurs in the 55th Street draft. The Riders stop to have a smoke on a street of Victorian houses with big lawns in the town of Las Vegas, New Mexico (before they get to the parade). The draft script describes the Riders:

watching neighborhood CHILDREN play in the sprinkler system of the corner house. They LAUGH, leap and fall in a strange frozen position. WYATT and BILLY kick over their bikes and head toward the center of the small township.

Later, the Riders are plunked into jail for the alleged crime of “parading without a permit.” There is a drunk on the cell floor. Next day:

INT. EARLY MORNING.

Wyatt sleeps on lower bunk – Billy paces nervously, stepping over the drunk who lies frozen in same position as previous scene.

Although the gluttons in Inferno lay on the ground, they can shift on their sides in vain attempts to escape the icy rain and the rapacious, flaying claws of the monster Cerberus.13 If the children rocked their bodies so, it would not seem so odd. But the sight of children “frozen” is indeed otherworldly. I would have liked to see the weird children in the rain in Easy Rider, but they were not filmed, or did not make the final cut. In the film the drunk is lying down, but on a cot, not the floor. He is George Hanson, played by Jack Nicholson. The fact that he is unconscious on a cot is visually fitting since we learn later that the sheriff and deputies are fond of George and respect him. They would not have left him on the ground.

As Dante and Virgil progress one glutton sits up and recognizes Dante. It is Ciacco, a fellow from Dante’s home town Florence. “Ciacco” means “hog” or “piggy.” Giovanni Boccaccio also writes of Ciacco in his Decameron, describing him as a “wit” and a moocher who attended rich people’s meals, invited or not. Ciacco was “a highly cultivated person, never at a loss for something clever and amusing to say.”14Easy Rider’s George is also well-spoken and bears good jests. His gluttonous object is alcohol. As Billy first looks down at George, he strikes a pose, putting a hand on his hip, imitating Virgil in Doré’s illustration of gluttons. Billy also stretches out his hair, in humorous imitation of a female glutton acting bizarrely. The jail cell imagery also harks back to Doré illustrations connected to the ninth circle of hell, the Riders’ destination.

George is a lawyer. He springs the Riders from jail. Outside he announces his morning meal, “Here’s the first of the day fellas!” and takes a gulp of scotch. Upon learning the Riders are heading to New Orleans, George shows them a card, given to him by the Governor of Louisiana. It is an entry pass for a brothel in New Orleans named “Madame Tinkertoy’s House of Blue Lights.” (The “Blue Lights” are important.) George says, “Now this is supposed to be the finest whorehouse in the South. These ain’t no pork chops, these are U.S. Prime.” Prime is the highest rating for beef meted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. George joins the Riders eastward to New Orleans. At one point he exhibits in his hand a pork chop squeaky toy. According to Hopper, “That pork chop was a rubber pork chop that Jack had found in some place on the side of the road to get gas.”15 That pork chop is a perfect pennant for Easy Rider’s football-helmeted Ciacco.

Dante asks Ciacco to predict the future for a troubled Florence, “but tell me, if you can, what is to be for the citizens of that divided state…and for what reasons we are torn by hate.” (6.57-60) George speaks of American politics and why the Riders are hated by the rednecks. Ciacco proffers political prophecies about two Florentine political factions, the Black and White Guelphs. George talks about the future of humanity and how we will intermix with the Venusians — outer space people from Venus. Although we see George drink, we do not see him eat. But when the travelers enter a Louisiana diner, George jokes about the rough motorcycle trip, “I think I’ll order kidneys because I left mine there on the road somewhere.” We may encounter George’s kidneys later in Easy Rider.

Fourth Circle of Hell: Greed and Prodigality

After release from jail, George greases the palms of two peace officers with money. The cash is intended to buy their silence about George’s drunken indiscretions. However, I detect no distinct fourth circle in Easy Rider. A separate circle of greed is unnecessary, and might be confusing, given that the film’s narrative journey is financed throughout with greed, the fruits of the Riders’ determinate deal with the Devil. But the Riders’ sin is much more than mere greed, so they must travel onward and eastward.

Fifth Circle of Hell: Anger

The crossing into the fifth circle of hell starts by following a stream flowing to the swamp Dante calls the Styx. In Easy Rider Wyatt and Billy enter the fifth circle crossing another bridge, visually shifting the environment from Texas/New Mexico horse country to Louisiana. Musically the soundtrack changes from the insufferable “Don’t Bogart That Joint” to the cool Jimi Hendrix song “If Six Were Nine.” After passing typical Southern scenery — and two more cemeteries — the Riders and George enter the diner. Here lay the hippies’ enemies — rednecks. These are angry rednecks, set off by the hippies’ intrusion. The sheriff calls them “troublemakers.” “You name it, I’ll throw rocks at it, Sheriff,” the chap wearing the CAT hat says. But at the next table there are charming flirting girls. There are no flirting girls in Dante’s Inferno, but the ones in Easy Rider assist, by contrast, the film’s bizarre and off-setting atmosphere. After all, it is a depiction of hell. Almost everyone in the film is dead.

Much has been said about Easy Rider and racism in the Deep South context. In Don’t Tell Dad Fonda says little about it. However, he has a lot to say about racism in the eastern Yankee environs of Greenwich, Connecticut. His father moved the family there from Los Angeles when Fonda was eight. Fonda fondly remembers his childhood home in the hills of Los Angeles, which he describes almost like a small, idyllic subsistence farm. He calls the move east to Connecticut, “exile from Paradise.”16 (He also calls Hawaii “paradisio.”17) His California home was “the magical land of Oz that I knew as the real world.” The transfer East was a “change from our bucolic and magical life,”18 and a move to a “culture quite alien to us.” Fonda complains about the “blue bloods” of Greenwich, “We’d never been so close to cliques and social divisions based on race, religion, and family background.” Speaking about racism in Connecticut, “The East had many terrible secrets to reveal to me.”19 More, “There were no orange groves, no avocado trees, no fresh vegetables,”20 and, “California’s fresh food had been replaced by Spam and tongue.”21 Understandably distraught, the young Fonda was caught writing on walls of his new house, very close to the ground so it was difficult for adults to see at first, “I hate the East!” and “Fuck the East!”22 This sentiment plays out in Easy Rider. For Fonda, the American east coast can be hell, or the deepest part of it.

After fleeing the diner, George and the Riders set camp beside the swamp. To hammer the point home, George and Billy say the word “swamp” six times while stoned. They go to sleep. The men from the diner come to beat them with clubs. They do so because the angry souls of Dante’s fifth circle batter each other in the swamp: “Savage with anger . . . They thumped at one another in that slime, with hand and feet, and they butted, and they bit as if each were tear the other limb from limb.” (7.111-114) George dies. Billy examines George’s wallet. He finds cash and the Madame Tinkertoy’s House of Blue Lights card. Billy says, “Here’s his card, man. He ain’t going to be using that.” The Riders will.

Sixth Circle of Hell: Heresy

Heresy is the fieriest realm of Dante’s hell, and the most complex circle of Easy Rider. I will divide it into three parts: 1) the restaurant scene, 2) the brothel (“House of Blue Lights”) scene, and 3) the Mardi Gras and cemetery scenes.

1. The Restaurant

Immediately after Billy says “He ain’t going to be using that,” the screen is filled with visions of fire. The flames announce the Riders’ approach to, and arrival at, the fiery outer ring of the city of Dis: the heretic zone. (8.1-10)23) The first apparition is a torch scorching a hunk of tripe.24 Torturing a stomach part in such fashion hints maybe we are not completely out of range of hell’s gluttony circle quite yet. Next comes blazing imagery of an unseen cook sautéing something in a pan. Plates of food are served to the Riders. “Fine dining” signifies the Riders’ arrival in the Big Easy, New Orleans. The scene is scored with the Electric Prunes’ psychedelic interpretation of “Kyrie Eleison” (“Lord have mercy”). Why Kyrie Eleison? What should the Lord have mercy about here? My first thought was greed: are the Riders using George’s wallet money to pay for this meal? Then there is gluttony, Billy stuffing his face with food; is that the immediate sin? Look at the plates of food. It appears to be kidneys in thick white sauce. George did say he lost his kidneys. Are the Riders partaking of the body of George? Inferno has a good share of human gnawing and eating. Although Billy consumes ravenously, Wyatt eats reservedly. This dining juxtaposition is reminiscent of the New Orleans restaurant scene in Gone with the Wind (1939).25 While Scarlett stuffs her face with food, Rhett is cool-headed like Wyatt. Rhett even uses the word “glutton.” He tells Scarlett, “If you don’t stop being such a glutton, you’ll get as fat as Mammy.”

Indeed, the short sequence of Gone with the Wind’s New Orleans honeymoon scenes visually resonate in Easy Rider. The first vision is a paddle wheeler on the Mississippi river. In Hopper’s twilight swamp palette one can find a moment of similar composition of color, water, fire, and smoke.

Shortly later we see the Riders and George sleeping, then beaten. In Gone with the Wind we see Scarlett in bed. Not much there, but then both films shift blazingly into their respective dining establishments, with lots of fire.

In Gone with the Wind the dining scene begins with dancing girls dressed in red, black, and white clothes. The camera retreats to reveal candelabra with many lit candles. Fire surrounds Rhett’s head. In Hopper’s take, the camera focuses through a red, black, and clear crystal bead curtain to reveal Wyatt’s head amidst fire. Against objections, perhaps well-taken, that my filmic comparisons are too strained, I leave Gone with the Wind with this observation: just as Scarlett and Billy wolf down food, they both gluttonize wine too.

2. The Brothel

While “Kyrie Eleison” (“Lord have mercy”) continues, the Riders enter Madam Tinkertoy’s House of Blue Lights. This is an amazing and bizarre house in the Los Feliz section of Hollywood known as “The Cedars.” Hopper says in his DVD commentary, “An old house I found in the Hollywood hills. It is actually decorated like this. I didn’t do anything to it.” However, he certainly adds an accent or two, like a prostitute wearing large earrings with the Chinese character for “heaven.” On the ceiling is an unusual, baroque-like art work with religious pictures set amidst metallic cherubic angels. It is a celestial ceiling, heretical to be in a whorehouse. Another heresy, for the second time the film shows a tight shot of Wyatt’s face when the Prunes sing the word “Christ” in Greek.

The celestial ceiling shot spins around, perhaps inspired by Dore’s Paradiso drawing of glowing angels “reflected in more than a thousand circles.” (Paradiso 30.113-114) Indeed, some of the light imagery to be encountered in the cemetery has resonance with the last cantos of Paradiso.

In the “bookless library”26 Wyatt has a premonition of the future: a vision of his motorcycle aflame. According to Dante, the dwellers of the sixth circle can see events in the far future, but as the future draws near, they lose all knowledge of it. (10.97-108) Virgil identifies some of the heretics as those who deny the immortality of souls. Wyatt recites Voltaire’s words, as if he were reading them on the wall, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.

3. Mardi Gras and the Cemetery

The Riders take Mary and Karen (Toni Basil and Karen Black) away from the brothel to the Mardi Gras street celebrations. The camera watches them experience colorful images and scary faces. They proceed to a cemetery. A young girl there recites the “Apostle’s Creed” and the “Glory Be to the Father” prayers. The “Apostle’s Creed” is the prayer that in part describes Christ’s descent into hell. Easy Rider interacts attentively to Doré’s related illustrations:

Dante’s tomb yard is rueful, “an anguished moaning rose on dead air from the desolation of tormented spirits.” (9.119-120) Flame is all around. Easy Rider shows accents of orange-yellow light in the cemetery, perhaps reflected by means of mirrors or some other low-tech device. Stronger infernal imagery is shown with intercut shots of real fire and scary Mardi Gras costumes. The scary faces serve a purpose in the circle of heresy because Easy Rider is merging here with a Buddhist text that was popular with hippies.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead

The Tibetan Book of the Dead,27 as edited by Walter Evans-Wentz, is an instruction book how to gain liberation from materiality after death, or be reincarnated back into the world in the alternative. Timothy Leary wrote a manual based on it called The Psychedelic Experience (1964).28 The Beatles read Leary’s book and wrote the song “Tomorrow Never Knows” (“Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream”). By coincidence, the Beatles wrote another song about death, “She Said She Said” (lyric: “She said, I know what it’s like to be dead”), inspired by Fonda’s words to George Harrison about how he “knew what it was like to be dead” from a scary childhood gun accident.29

The second section of The Tibetan book of the Dead, the Chonyid Bardo, is the most colorful part, with numerous and varied stages of “sound, lights and rays.”30 Leary calls it “Second Bardo the Period of Hallucinations.” Since he is promoting the use of hallucinogens, he warns, “Strange sounds, weird sights and disturbed visions may occur. These can awe, frighten and terrify unless one is prepared.” He further warns:

The underlying problem of the Second Bardo is that any and every shape — human, divine, diabolical, heroic, evil, animal, thing — which the human brain conjures up or the past life recalls, can present itself to consciousness: shapes and forms and sounds whirling by endlessly.31

Easy Rider’s seemingly anarchic Mardi Gras and cemetery scenes comport with Leary’s explanations. Here is another, from Leary’s section titled, “The Magical Theater”:

If the voyager is prepared and in a relaxed, detached frame of mind, he is exposed to a fascinating and dazzling display of dramatic creativity. The Cosmic Theatre. The Divine Comedy. If his eyes are open, he may visualize the other voyagers as representing these figures. The face of a friend may turn into that of a young boy, a   baby, the child-god; into a heroic statue, a wise old man; a woman, animal, goddess, sea- mother, young girl, nymph, elf, goblin, leprechaun. Images of the great painters arise as the familiar representations of these spirits. The images are inexhaustible and manifold.32

Leary’s book may be an influence, but Easy Rider’s attention to color and other details indicates a direct reading of the Evans-Wentz text too. In The Tibetan Book of the Dead most of the colorful light shows are experienced by dead souls who cannot follow the immediate path to Buddha-hood and liberation — which is just about everybody. The path to material liberation, or more likely reincarnation, is a set of tests, including two weeks of light shows and visions of deities, both good and scary. These two weeks are divided into phases called “the dawning of the peaceful deities” and “the dawning of the wrathful deities.” Easy Rider uses Christian and pagan imagery from Mardi Gras and the cemetery in lieu of sets of Buddhist deities. One might also consider the images embedded in the brothel’s celestial ceiling to be intended “peaceful deities.” Psychiatrist Carl Jung advises in his introduction to The Tibetan Book of the Dead, “one is perfectly free, if one chooses, to substitute Christian symbols for the gods of the Chonyid Bardo.”33

Regarding auditory effects, Evans-Wentz writes that the traveling dead soul will hear “the natural sound of Reality, reverberating like a thousand thunders simultaneously sounding, will come. That is the natural sound of thine own real self.”34 In Easy Rider we hear the repetitive pounding sounds of a pile driver. But lights are the major sensory attraction of the Chonyid Bardo. The first seven days are marked by pairs, or groups, of colored lights. These lights are tests. Travelling dead souls must choose to follow one of the lights in order to progress through the afterlife. For example, the first day starts with the “blue light, the wisdom of Dharma-Dhatu” also known as, “the divine blue light . . . the light of the Tathāgata.”35  Tathāgata is a name for Buddha or a buddha. Is Madame Tinkertoy a Tathāgata? Paired with the blue light is a dull white light that one should not follow, but apparently most souls choose to do, and thereby continue on the course of lights and god-visions. Phases with yellow, red, and green lights come later. The paths and choices are rather complex, but what is crystal clear is that one should never follow the “smoke-coloured light:”

Be not fond of the dull, smoke-coloured light from Hell . . . If thou be attracted by it, thou will fall into the Hell-Worlds; and, falling therein, thou wilt have to endure unbearable misery, whence there is no certain time of getting out. That being an interruption to obstruct thee on the Path of Liberation, look not at it; and avoid anger.36

At various stages, haloes of “rainbow light”37 and “orbs of radiance” are experienced: “orbs having satellite orbs of radiance, so clear and bright that the eye can scarcely look upon it, will strike against thee.”38 Such radiant orbs and satellites can be found in the solar lens effects in the cemetery acid trip footage, and in some of the motorcycle riding scenes.

The cemetery scene’s sexual content also comes from The Tibetan Book of the Dead. After passage through the Chonyid Bardo, souls that have not achieved liberation approach terrestrial rebirth via reincarnation. The Evans-Wentz edition says the dead may see “visions of males and females in union.”39 The cemetery scene ends with two suns as two choices to follow: a white light and a yellow one. This follows the end of The Tibetan Book of the Dead where two last choices are provided, “Enter upon the White Light-[Path] of the devas, or upon the Yellow Light-[Path] of human beings. Enter in the great mansions of precious metals and in the delightful gardens.”40 In Easy Rider, entrance into the white light succeeds the yellow as it does at the end of a recent film openly modeled on The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void (2009). In his DVD commentary, Hopper recites passages from the Gospel of Thomas about fire and light and claims, “Anyway, that was the basis of this cemetery scene.” The Gospel of Thomas is important for Hopper’s faith,41 but the Tibetan text provides most of the color here.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead is also reflected in the 55th Street draft. In a scene that was not shot or did not make the final cut, the Riders approach the brothel’s street entrance. Looking in they see:

SPOTS, Blue, red, yellow and green light the interior behind the bars where large antique statues – Greek, Roman and Oriental Buddhas – are illuminated in the artificial basic colored lights. Wyatt finds bell and rings it. They wait.

Hopper wanted lights at the cemetery too. In the documentary A Decade Under the Influence (2003), kindly pointed out to me by Hopper biographer Peter L. Winkler,42 Hopper tells a story about how Fonda and associate producer Bill Hayward (Hopper’s ex-brother-in-law) audiotaped him during the New Orleans shooting, and played the tape later to producer Bert Schneider, in order to warn Schneider that:

“Hopper’s obviously lost it. Listen to these tapes.” And here I am saying, “[angrily] I asked for a yellow light, and a red light, and a green light, that’s all I asked for in this cemetery, where the fuck are they?” . . . You know, this maniac screaming . . . crazy, out of my mind, . . . so Schneider says [to Fonda and Hayward], “Well, you know, he really sounds excited, but, did he ask for those lights? And why weren’t those lights there? You know, I hired him to direct this movie, I’m not replacing him.”

Seventh Circle of Hell: Violence

Dante’s seventh circle is entered subtly in the cemetery. The seventh circle itself has three concentric rings. The middle one is for those violent to themselves: the suicides. Souls dead by suicide turn into bare trees and bushes, hence Hopper’s directorial interest in such plants. Fonda’s mother killed herself when he was a child.43 It was a horrendous death, and deeply affected Fonda, evident both in Don’t Tell Dad and Easy Rider. In the film Fonda climbs a statue of a woman and reveals his personal feelings about his mother.44

A subtle, humorous reference to one of Doré’s seventh circle illustrations occurs earlier in the film. While cycling with George in horse country, the camera eyes a flock of sheep in a dry riverbed herded by horsemen. Excitedly, Billy points them out to Wyatt and George. In my imagination Hopper is telling Fonda and Nicholson, “Hey, look! Centaurs!” Billy, then George, wave to the herders. These shots recall Dante’s and Virgil’s first view of the Centaurs patrolling violent souls in the “river of boiling blood” of the seventh circle of hell.

Eighth Circle of Hell: Fraud

The eighth circle of hell is the longest and most complex. Its verses take up nearly forty percent of Inferno’s length. Easy Rider deftly handles this circle by zooming right through it. Dante’s circle of frauds is composed of ten trenches, or little valleys, wherein dwell fraudsters of ten varieties. A series of bridges traverse the trenches. Sometimes these bridges together are translated into English as the “causeway.” In imitation of traversing the Gulf Coast, the Riders glide over bridges, rivers, and swamp canals. As the 55th Street draft describes it, “Wyatt and Billy traveling from Louisiana to Florida, crossing the Causeway, swamplands, etc.”

The Tibetan Book of the Dead is still in play here. As previously mentioned, the “smoke colored light” is the light of the “Hell-Worlds” that should never be followed. But the Riders do follow it. It is the light of the sun rising in the East, tinted by petrochemical plant emissions — not an uncommon sight in the region. As described by Leary:

The hell world emits a smoke-colored light and is preceded by sounds of wailing, visions of gloomy lands, black and white houses and black roads along which you have to travel.45

As Evans-Wentz writes it, “songs [like wailings], due to evil karma, will be heard.”46 In Easy Rider’s version, Roger McGuinn sings like Bob Dylan singing, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).”

The Yin and the Yang

Before entering the ninth circle, two other textual influences need be addressed. First is the script for the unproduced film, The Yin and the Yang. It was written by Don Sherman, Dennis Hopper, and Peter Fonda in late 1965.47 Sherman is a professional comedian and actor.48 Originally from the East Coast, he had been in California only a few weeks working for The Steve Allen Show when Fonda and Hopper appeared at his home’s back door, at 3 a.m. in the morning, in pouring rain, asking to hire him as a script writer.49 In Don’t Tell Dad Fonda fondly recalls the writing of the script, and otherwise indicates it was important for him.50 He also describes how he and Hopper later did script readings for select audiences in New York to gin up interests in financing a film, which never came through.

The Yin and the Yang has relevance to Easy Rider. For one, there is an interest in contemporary America and comic book heroes. Sherman says the lead character, named “Peter,” to be played by Fonda, represents “the spirit of America.” Like Wyatt, “Peter” carries multiple pop-culture identities such as Superman, the Green Hornet, and Batman. The central crises of the films are similar, selling out for big money, “crass commercialism,” being bought and sold, though what is at jeopardy in The Yin and the Yang is better framed as love than freedom. Like a morality play, there is a character representing the idea itself, named “Crass Commercialism.” In pacing, circularity, interest in filmmaking, and humorous tone, The Yin and the Yang reminds me of a film like Head (1968). Easy Rider is often stated to be a harbinger of the “New Hollywood,” along with Bonnie and Clyde (1967). This conflict of an old and new Hollywood is a plot point in The Yin and the Yang. At one point Peter walks through a Hollywood film studio. He encounters two sound stages, one marked “OLD HOLLYWOOD,” the other, “NEW HOLLYWOOD.” Both stages have the same “ancient camera crew” filming a “Valentino-type man” in an “old-fashioned love scene.” This “NEW HOLLYWOOD” is a fraud. Peter follows an arrow labeled “NO HOLLYWOOD” to discover a beach, with “beach-type girls,” and the Byrds singing Bob Dylan’s song “The Times They Are a-Changin’.”

The Byrds also sing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Oh! Susanna” in The Yin and the Yang. They also have non-singing parts. Sherman says the band members were “always around” during the writing process. The Byrds are also important for Easy Rider. Their singer and lead guitarist Roger McGuinn sings Bob Dylan’s “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).” McGuinn also wrote and performed the film’s only original song, “Ballad of Easy Rider.” The Byrds’ version of “Wasn’t Born to Follow” plays twice in the film. When discussing Easy Rider’s soundtrack, Hopper has generally indicated he came up with all the songs after filming was completed. I think this is mostly true, but I find it hard to believe the lyrics of “Wasn’t Born to Follow” did not inspire some filmic ideas for Easy Rider, like the fountain bathing scene, trees with “leaves of prisms,” and finding a place called “Sacred Mountain.”

Paddle-to-the-Sea

Paddle to the Sea (1941) is an illustrated children’s book. It tells the adventure of a toy canoe and figure carved by an Indian boy in western Ontario. He tells the toy, “You will go with the water and you will have adventures I would like to have.” He sets the toy on a snowy hillside. With the spring melt, the canoe goes downstream and eastward through the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence river, then to the Atlantic where it is picked up by French fishermen and taken further east to France. On the trip, the toy canoe meets many difficulties like forest fires, ice, saw mills, and other barriers. The book is very personal for Fonda. Indeed, it provides a structural motif for his autobiography, about “paddling on” through life. Paddle-to-the-Sea provides parallels to the unidirectional eastward travel and episodic conflict structure in Easy Rider. Also similar, along its journey the toy encounters different kinds of people, landscapes, and buildings.

The book is handsomely illustrated. One might find visual similarities in its depictions of riverside industrial activities with those briefly seen during the Riders’ ride through the eighth circle. Later in life Fonda recreated his own Paddle-to-the-Sea water journey. But rather than travel toward the hated “East,” he went south. Starting from Hawaii he sailed to Tahiti, French Polynesia. Fonda tells, “I still get a little choked up when I tell the story about Paddle-to-the-Sea. But I know I have made my journey and gone beyond. It remains to be seen what I do with the experience.”51

Ninth Circle of Hell: Betrayal

At the border of the eighth and ninth circles Dante places some Titans. Only the upper half of these giants’ bodies are visible to Virgil and Dante as they approach. Easy Rider’s deploys two half-visible “rednecks” in a pickup truck.

One Titan lifts Virgil and Dante by hand and places them down into the ninth circle of hell in order that they continue their journey. But Wyatt and Billy do not get this kind treatment. Rather than being set down, they are gunned down. The Riders die here because they deserve it. Their final destination is the deepest part of hell because they are the worst kind of sinners. Dante’s ninth circle is the domain of the betrayers. Wyatt and Billy are sell-outs and traitors. Fonda explained in 1969:

You have that moral problem in Easy Rider, you know, about being hard narcotics dealers, without a care in the world and we’re beautiful heroes . . . people that you can identify with, that you want to be . . . you want to be like them, you want to look like them, you want a chance to do what they’re doing . . . and when you come together at the end and they’re killed, you still can’t get it together — “you” being the establishment — can’t get it together, man, how about you can like this kind of person, feel sad about their death and shocked, and yet they’re the most immoral people you can pick up in America.52

Dennis Hopper says in his 2004 DVD commentary:

I mean the two outlaws, who’d gone for the big money and gotten rich, the American dream. When in point of fact they undermined their country and were destroying it. And that was the story to me. They lost sight of their freedom.

In Don’t Tell Dad Fonda describes how he wanted just to say “We blew it” in the final campfire scene. Hopper thought Fonda should elaborate:

No, no, man. We’ve got to be more specific. We’ve got to say something about how we blew it . . . we’ve got to say something about blowing our heritage . . . we’ve got to say that we’ve blown our heritage, you know, man, like when we went for the big bucks and the drugs, ya dig man?53

Fonda won out with the enigmatic “We blew it.” “It” being America. As Fonda describes his performance in Don’t Tell Dad:

“We blew it.” I turned my flag to the camera, “Goodnight, man.”54

With their deal with the Devil the Riders betrayed their country and sold out their hippie ideals. Given the amount of marijuana smoking in Easy Rider it might seem more than counterintuitive to label it an anti-drug film. But it is, in a hippie frame of reference. Anti-hard drugs. As Luke Askew says in Shaking the Cage:

When hard drugs started to come in, being dealt by people with absolutely no values whatsoever, that was the beginning of the end of it.

Easy Rider marks the death of hippie culture — caused by the hippies themselves. But the Riders are usually seen as heroes, not villains. Fonda, writing about the song “The Pusher,” says, “the words ‘Goddamn the pusher-man’ play over the scene. We meant to foreshadow the ending, but by using Hoyt’s song over the bucolic drive to the desert hideout, most of the audience forgot the warning.”55 But only the first verse is heard, lyrically the tamest. The second verse distinguishes “pusher” from “dealer,” a distinction that would pass by most people. The song’s third verse is cut and dried:

Well, now if I were the president of this land
You know, I’d declare total war on The Pusher man
I’d cut him if he stands, and I’d shoot him if he’d run
Yes I’d kill him with my Bible and my razor and my gun

That is one way to sum up Easy Rider: God damns The Pusher men, using America, Dante-style. The film’s three writers have not written about the influence of Dante on Easy Rider, although everybody agrees the widespread belief that the film’s dialogue was “ad-libbed” is almost totally wrong.56 But Terry Southern talks about Inferno elsewhere. For one, in his 1970 novel Blue Movie, a fantasy about the making of a big budget, studio-backed pornographic film. The character named Boris is a hot shot artiste director who wants to make the porno rather than a film proposed by Sid, his producer friend. Sid complains to Boris early in the book:

okay, okay, You’re a motherfuckin’, insane saint. You turn down a ten million dollar picture—Dante’s Inferno, and that’s one helluva property, you know that don’t you? — you turned it down, and the next day you’re talking about making astag film! That’s very amusing, that’s very cute.57

According to David Tully, author of Terry Southern and the American Grotesque (2010), around 1970 Southern was pitching a “big budget, big-screen-extravaganza” script entitled “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” Tully quotes from this unpublished script:

in the tradition of My Fair Lady and Around the World in Eighty Days. The story, although wholly contemporary, is fashioned after the narrative of Dante’s Inferno as a vehicle for Mick Jagger, about a jet-setting aristocrat who searches the world for emotional fulfillment and finds it in the wife and child he left behind.”58

This reads as if “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” has a quickie Paradiso-like happy ending. I have not seen the script, but Southern’s son Nile has kindly provided me with an outline of it prepared at a later date by his father that reads in relevant part:

Many [characters], like the ‘Damned’ of the Inferno, are hideously disfigured, deformed, mechanically restored in a grotesque way, so that they are not unlike the monsters and demons which Dante describes. . . . Unfettered by temporal restraints or demands of strict story continuity, being of a totally impressionistic nature, (c.f., the solo-trip in 2001 ‘beyond Jupiter and Infinity,” the “Pin-Ball Wizard” number inTommy, or in balletic terms, for example, Balanchine’s “Slaughter on 10th Avenue,” though, of course, more grandiose and surreal. It is in this area that theInferno parallel, in the abstract, with its “trials, tribulations, and temptations,” etc. can be expressed to advantage — dramatically, musically, choreographically.

As serendipity would have it, materials originally sent to me by the Terry Southern Trust included a transcription of the first eighteen pages of an Easy Rider sequel script called Easy Ridin’ in Biker Heaven, written circa 1982. Southern’s co-writers are Nelson Lyon and Michael O’Donoghue. Easy Ridin’ in Biker Heaven takes place a century in the future. The world has been mostly lost in a nuclear holocaust. A mysterious character named “The Leader” soars from Earth through outer space to Biker Heaven. This heaven is well-stocked with things that bikers traditionally like, like naked women serving Jack Daniels whiskey. Among this heaven’s denizens are “the great Bikers we have seen in Roger Corman and A.I.P. bike films: Jeremy Slate, Bruce Dern, Dan Hallard, Rip Torn, Lee Marvin, Adam Roarke, Michael Parks, Evel Kneivel, Sonny Barger, John Cassavetes, etc.” The Leader says he want to give America its pride and honor back, and he will need two famous bikers to lead it:

THE LEADER
(Solemnly)
This job . . . this mission of honor . . .
Goes to the two bikers who most
Deserve it . . . the two bikers who
Loved America more than life itself
Captain America and Billy.
CYCLE SAINT #9
‘Captain America and Billy’? Hey,
How come they ain’t up here with us?
THE LEADER
Because they’re still half-buried
in a ditch on a lonely Florida
highway where they were gunned down
a hundred years ago.

The eschatological complexity of Cycle Saint #9’s question is deftly sidestepped. The Leader says he is going to give the Riders, “a second chance . . . another go-round for the old brass ring!” I imagine Easy Ridin’ in Biker Heaven might be structured as a healing adventure through Purgatorio to Paradiso. Reportedly Fonda floated the idea of a sequel again around 1995.59 I think Easy Rider’s linear ending is perfect and should be left alone. But as the character named “Writer” tells “Peter” at the end of The Yin and the Yang: “There’s no ending like the beginning.” I think Fonda would end his sequel with Wyatt and Billy back in California. Or Hawaii.

  1. In his autobiography Fonda relates a funny story about himself and Robert Mitchum’s son Jim in which Cisco and Pancho are invoked.  Fonda, Peter, Don’t Tell Dad (New York:1998) 197-198. []
  2. In the New Orleans Mardi Gras and cemetery scenes, which were shot before the rest of the film, and before a formal script was written, Billy wears no hat, just a headband like Tonto.  In the film’s previous (and later shot) scenes, Billy wears his headband as a second hatband around the brim of his cowboy hat.  In the New Orleans brothel he is seen holding hat in hand, and headband on his head. Thereafter Billy’s hat is absent from the film, he only wears the headband. []
  3. Fonda, 259. []
  4. Fonda, 259-60. []
  5. Fonda interviewed in the documentary Easy Rider: Shaking the Cage (1999 []
  6. I wish to thank the Terry Southern Trust and Susan Schulman, A Literary Agency for graciously providing me the Easy Rider, 55th Street draft. Also, I wish to express my gratitude to Nile Southern for providing me with additional background documents. []
  7. All quotations come from the John Ciardi translation. []
  8. Actor Luke Askew, who plays the Stranger, states, “The only time I ever had anything to do with communes, they were basically pretty ugly scenes. They were run by usually two or three guys on a total power trip, total control over some poor chicks that they ran ragged; bunches of children around that were not being taken care of.”  From interview in Easy Rider: Shaking the Cage (1999). []
  9. In the 1998 film Hideous Kinky, the interpretation of Easy Rider’s Stranger character is clearly as Christ figure. []
  10. Macklin, Anthony, “Easy Rider: The Initiation of Dennis Hopper,” Film Heritage (Fall 1969) 1-12, 9. []
  11. Hardin, Nancy and Schlossberg, Marilyn, eds. Easy Rider, Original Screenplay by Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Terry Southern, plus Stills, Interviews and Articles (New York: 1969) 30. []
  12. Fonda, Don’t Tell Dad, 140. []
  13. Virgil flings dirt into the mouth of Cerberus to distract it.  In the commune scene, someone hurls mud at a hostile-acting Billy, which hits him in the chest.  The 55th Street draft says, “a large mud ball hits him square in the face.” []
  14. Boccaccio, Giovanni, The Decameron, 2d, Trans. G. H. McWilliam (London: 1995) 686.. []
  15. DVD commentary. []
  16. Fonda, 35. []
  17. Fonda, 77. []
  18. Fonda, 36. []
  19. Fonda, 37. []
  20. Fonda, 36 . []
  21. Fonda, 41. []
  22. Fonda, 42. []
  23. As Ciardi introduces Canto 8, “The Poets stand at the edge of the swamp, and a mysterious signal flames from the great tower.  It is answered from the darkness on the other side.”  Or later, just after Filippo Argenti is “mangled by a swarm of muddy wraiths,” (8.56) glows become visible from “eternal flues to eternal fire.”  (8.70-71 []
  24. I wish to thank folks at The Butchers Blog and their contacts for expertly identifying the meats.  The first meat flamed was a complete mystery to me, and I thought the food on the plates might be kidneys due to George’s earlier comment about losing his own. The tripe and calf kidney identification comes from Twitter member @offalchris at: http://twitter.com/#!/offalchris/status/107178738206248961. Twitter member @iamfonda tweets, “veal cutlet!” http://twitter.com/#!/iamfonda/status/107200514877440000> There may be some veal on the plate, but the bulbous stuff is no cutlet. []
  25. Southern’s 1970 novel Blue Movie contains several funny risqué references to Gone with the Wind including a few takes on Scarlett’s “As God is my witness” speech.. []
  26. Fonda, 265. As Fonda calls it. []
  27. Evans-Wentz, W. Y., ed., The Tibetan Book of the Dead; or, The After-death Experiences on the Bardo Plane, 3d ed. (New York: 1960). []
  28. Leary, T., Metzner, R., Alpert, R., The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead (New Hyde Park: 1964).. []
  29. Fonda, 208. []
  30. Evans-Wentz, 102. []
  31. Leary et al., 48. []
  32. Leary et al., 70. []
  33. Evans-Wentz, xlix. []
  34. Evans-Wentz, 104. []
  35. Evans-Wentz, 106. []
  36. Evans-Wentz, 109. []
  37. Evans-Wentz, 111, 112, 115, 116, 118, 120. []
  38. Evans-Wentz, 111. []
  39. E.g., Evans-Wentz, 178. []
  40. Evans-Wentz, 192. Later translations use “blue” instead of “yellow.” []
  41. Macklin, 9-10. []
  42. Peter L. Winkler is author of the excellent new biography Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel (Fort Lee, NJ: 2011). []
  43. Fonda, 138. []
  44. Fonda, 267-268. []
  45. Leary, et al., 91. []
  46. Evans-Wentz, 185. []
  47. A copy of the script is found in the Wallace Berman Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, reel 5283.  Wallace and his wife Sheila were friends of Hopper and appear as hippies at Easy Rider’s commune.  Fonda titles the script, The Yin(g) and the Yang, relating a story about how Hopper thought yin sounded better with a “g.” (Fonda, 210). “Yin(g)” is present within the dialogue, but “Yin” appears on the cover page.  In another coincidence, both Wallace Berman and Terry Southern appear on the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) album cover art. []
  48. For a story about Sherman, see: Kaufman, Joanne, “A Comic’s Quarter Century of Smooth Sailing,” Wall Street Journal, Feb. 22, 2006, p. D.12. []
  49. Sherman, Don, personal communications, 2011. Don says the title reflects the idea, “There is no beginning, no end.  We all end up in the same place, life is circular like that.”  Upon reading the script in 2011, Don says, “It’s the first script the more I read it, the less I understood.  It stimulates excess reading.” []
  50. Fonda, 209-211. []
  51. Fonda, 413. []
  52. Reif, Tony and Ewing, Iain, “Fonda,” Take One [Montreal], vol. 2, no.3 (1969) 7. []
  53. Fonda,  Don’t Tell Dad, 279. []
  54. Fonda, 280. []
  55. Fonda, 284. []
  56. The source of this myth may be Easy Rider’s own publicists. In a 1969 interview Fonda challenges information from a “publicity blurb:” “Fonda:  ‘What publicity blurb said that? . . . Oh here we are. [Reads blurb] That’s not true, 90 percent of the film wasn’t ad libbed . . . it was just that some of the dialogue — and there’s very little dialogue — -was ad libbed.'”  Reif and Ewing, 9. []
  57. Southern, Terry, Blue Movie (New York: 1970) 30. []
  58. Tully, David, Terry Southern and the American Grotesque (Jefferson, N.C.: 2010) 177. []
  59. Gerber, Gail and Lisanti, Tom, Trippin’ with Terry Southern: What I Think I Remember (Jefferson, NC: 2009) 97. []