This week, the Criterion Collection is treating cannabis cinephiles to a rerelease of the counterculture classic "Easy Rider" (1969) - the iconoclastic road trip movie featuring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson challenging the establishment by smoking joints and rolling into small town America on motorcycles.
The rerelease is a milestone for the film, as well as for cannabis culture. If you're unfamiliar with Criterion, this quotation from their mission statement will explain why it's an honor to have a film chosen for the collection, and why movie makers and diehard fans salivate over these special editions:
"Each film is presented uncut, in its original aspect ratio, as its maker intended it to be seen.....[W]e track down the best available film elements in the world, use state-of-the-art telecine equipment and a select few colorists capable of meeting our rigorous standards, then take time during the film-to-video digital transfer to create the most pristine possible image and sound. Whenever possible, we work with directors and cinematographers to ensure that the look of our releases does justice to their intentions. Our supplements enable viewers to appreciate Criterion films in context, through audio commentaries by filmmakers and scholars, restored director's cuts, deleted scenes, documentaries, shooting scripts, early shorts, and storyboards."
In honor of the event, we scoured the collection's archive to put together a list of Criterion's marijuana-themed releases, starting with the latest entry.
1. "Easy Rider" (1969)
The daringly unorthodox style and rebellious themes of "Easy Rider" helped define the era of "New Hollywood," which offered American cinema classics such as "Dirty Harry" (1971), "The Godfather" (1972) and "Taxi Driver" (1976). But none of those films captured American counterculture from the inside like Dennis Hopper's directorial debut.
Check out this scene where Peter Fonda's character Wyatt 'Captain America' Williams scoffs at the dubious "gateway drug" theory while teaching George Hanson (Nicholson) about how to smoke a joint.
2. "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" (2004)
Unlike with most movies, Criterion didn't wait long to honor director Wes Anderson's parodic homage to Jacques Cousteau. The curators worked alongside Anderson to release the special edition of the film starring Bill Murray as a surly, depressed yet sympathetic captain who is struggling to find direction in life, as well as on the open sea after the death of his longtime partner and the emergence of a stranger who might be his son.
Throughout the film, Steve is seen puffing on a little something. The movie doesn't clarify whether or not it's a joint, but he's savoring the first drag in this scene a bit too long for it to be tobacco. What do you think?
3. "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (1998)
Unlike in "The Life Aquatic," there's no doubt that Raul Duke and Dr. Gonzo (played by Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro) in director Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing used and abused every substance they could get their hands on.
The curators outdid themselves when working on the only film in the collection that could challenge "Easy Rider" as the best counterculture road trip film. The special edition contains interviews with cast and crew, as well as documentaries on Hunter S. Thompson - author of the source material. And they teamed up with Ralph Steadman - who illustrated many of Thompson's works - to design the menu screens for the special edition..
4. "Traffic" (2000)
Director Steven Soderbergh's gritty crime epic is not about marijuana in particular but the War on Drugs. The movie's three, interwoven plots feature Michael Douglas playing America's newly appointed "drug czar," whose losing battle with the illegal drug trade hits home when his daughter falls prey to addiction.
The special features in the Criterion rerelease offer fascinating insights into Soderbergh's ambitious attempt to portray the futility of attempts to control drug use through criminalization. This scene featuring Michael Douglas at a cocktail should be enough to convince just about anyone that the drug war is un-winnable.
5. Dazed and Confused (1993)
Yes, the Criterion collection does have a lighter side. Along with avaunt garde and gripping films, the curators also enjoy coming-of-age comedies like director Richard Linklater's celebration of 70s culture, including pot as well as pop culture.
The special edition offers the usual behind-the-scenes materials plus many retrospectives featuring cast and crew that will make you nostalgic for the 90s as well as the 70s. THere's no better way to remind yourself to abide by the philosophy of Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey) and "keep livin'."
h/t Mental Floss
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