The First Cut of “Easy Rider” Was Over Four Hours Long

The finished version is a lot shorter

Making "Easy Rider"
American actor & director Dennis Hopper and actor Peter Fonda during the filming of Hopper's directorial debut 'Easy Rider,' New Orleans, Louisiana, 1968.
Susan Wood/Getty Images

Some influential films leave their mark on the industry with a bit of subtlety. That influence is there if you know to look for it, but it isn’t the kind of thing that makes the movie in question a household name. For others, though, the very title of a film can serve as shorthand for an entire genre or movement. There’s a reason why Peter Biskind titled a book on filmmaking history Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, after all — director Dennis Hopper’s 1969 film had an outsized cultural impact.

It was also almost a lot longer. Air Mail recently published an excerpt from the book Hollywood: The Oral History that covered the production of Easy Rider and the way certain figures factored into its development — including the low-budget films produced by Roger Corman.

Some of the most interesting pieces of information about Easy Rider concerns the time it took to make it. Editor Donn Cambern cited a figure of 11 months spent working on the film from the beginning of shooting. “The first cut on the movie was, like, four hours and 40 minutes,” he recalled. “Dennis [Hopper] just wanted everything, so we tried everything.”

While the idea of a much longer initial cut is far from unique, that still feels like a lot in light of Easy Rider‘s actual running time, which is just over an hour and a half. It’s one of a host of films that the production company BBS Productions, much of whose output was later collected on a box set from the Criterion Collection. Reading about the process of turning the Easy Rider that was filmed into the one audiences are familiar with is also a reminder of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making films memorable — something that remains just as true today.

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