Controversial Counterculture Film Easy Rider Uneasy for the Dead

by M-Gillies

The Saint Louis #1 Cemetery is only the size of a block but holds 100,000 bodies.

It was in 1969 when two notable actors decided to make what would become a landmark counterculture film known as Easy Rider, which explored the tensions in the United States during the 1960s from the rise and fall of the hippie movement, to drug use and communal lifestyles.

The basis of the movie sees the two freewheeling hippies, Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda, traveling from California to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. On their way, the two, make a stop at one New Orleans oldest and most famous cemetery, the Saint Louis Cemetery #1, for a controversial scene, in which the two characters take acid and have sex with two hookers in an open grave and in-between mausoleums, with one titular monologue spoken by Fonda on the Italian Benevolent Society Tomb.

To add to the conflicted emotions Fonda’s character portrayed in the movie, Hopper asked Fonda to talk to the statue as if he were talking to his mother, who, while Fonda was 10 years old, had committed suicide. Hesitant at first about channeling emotions about his mother, Fonda eventually agreed, which saw him during the scene calling the statue mother and telling it that he both loves and hates her.

Because of this scene, Bob Dylan allowed the use of his song, It’s Alright Ma, which contained lyrical references to suicide, to be used in one of the final scenes.

During the filming of the Saint Louis Cemetery #1 seen, permission was not given for filmmakers to use the cemetery and when Catholic audience members saw the film for the first time, many were horrified by what they had seen and questioned how a Catholic cemetery would allow such a filming to take place. Since then, no other movie has been allowed to be filmed in the cemetery unless it is a documentary or written permission has been given first.

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