Sunday, August 25, 2019

Peter Fonda passes of lung cancer at age 79.

Today we have a guest post by Roger Carlton. He writes a column for the Graham Star newspaper. 

Sadly, this column has recently mourned the deaths of Senator John McCain and Lee Iacocca. Senator McCain was a Vietnam War hero and a political conservative with a strong sense of empathy. Lee Iacocca was a business leader who led the development of the iconic Ford Mustang and saved Chrysler from the brink of bankruptcy with the K-cars. You might ask why I would devote the same importance to Peter Fonda and that would be a fair question.

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Peter Fonda and his sister Jane Fonda
Peter Fonda's father Henry starred in many great movies but the best was the 1940 movie version of John Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath." He played an undesirable ex-convict who had to lead his family from Oklahoma to the promised land in California to escape the economic hardships of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. At the end of this long drive in an old jalopy, they were stopped at the California border because the state could not absorb so many people, natives were afraid of the impacts of the uncontrolled influx and the cost of needed services could not be borne by the taxpayers. These American migrants were forced to stay in a holding camp. Is this starting to sound familiar? 

His sister Jane also made some wonderful movies including "Klute" and "China Syndrome." Her best movie, "On Golden Pond" was made with her father and was really a resolution of the very difficult life she and Peter had with their dad who was cold and aloof to his children and wife who eventually committed suicide. Please get over your distaste for Jane because of her ill-conceived trip to North Vietnam. That country is today one of our great allies and is profiting greatly from the trade war tariffs with China.

Peter's greatest contribution to cinema was 1969's "Easy Rider." The picture was made for $384,000 and earned $60 million at the box office. The cinematography of long scenery shots made you feel like you were riding the Captain America Harley chopper, the "Born to Be Wild" music of Steppenwolf and the first exposure to future super stars Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson all combined to capture the imagination of a generation broken-hearted by assassinations, news reports of hundreds of soldiers dying daily, the civil rights struggle and so much more. Peter took the money, became a recluse on an 80 foot yacht and finally made peace with his father in a wonderful picture called "Ulee's Gold" which was about an unhappy beekeeper who was forced to bring up his grandchildren and how that changed his life.

"Easy Rider" was a game changer for this columnist who was a college senior about to graduate the University of Florida and who was 1A in the draft. I saw the movie with friends. The ending when Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda were killed by some local folks in the swamps east of New Orleans who didn't like how these long haired hippies looked literally blew me away. Couple that last scene when the helicopter filmed shot pulls away as the motorcycles burn with another scene when Jack Nicholson's drunken college ex-football star turned unhappy lawyer character says "You know, this used to be a helluva country," and it is easy to draw a parallel with today's titanic struggles for the soul of America.

Great and memorable motion pictures capture the essence of transitional hard times. People who struggle to survive  fear the future either of their own accord or egged on by someone. This is nothing new and we are experiencing it today on steroids due to social media and 24 hour news shows. Watch the fifty-year- ago "Easy Rider" and join me in mourning the death of Peter Fonda. 

Roger appreciates your comments.

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