Head-Trip Rock Movies from the 'Easy Rider' Era

“Rainbow Bridge” was one of a series of avant-garde/art-house movies with a rock soundtrack during the “Easy Rider” era. Here’s a quick look at some of those films, a mix of the indulgent and exploitive, the innovative and inspired:

“Don’t Look Back” (1967): D.A. Pennebaker’s portrait of Bob Dylan on a 1965 tour of England set a new standard for cinéma vérité storytelling. Dylan embodies the anti-rock-star with cynicism and charisma that is by turns playful and cutting. The soundtrack is stuffed with classic songs, including the opening cue-card-tossing video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”

“The Trip” (1967): Directed by Roger Corman, written by Jack Nicholson and starring Peter Fonda, this acid-trip chronicle was essentially a warm-up for “Easy Rider.” The film opens with a glimpse of Gram Parsons and his country-rocking International Submarine Band playing in a club, while the Electric Flag, an adventurous Chicago-based blues band led by guitarist Mike Bloomfield, provides the bulk of the soundtrack.

“Psych-Out” (1968): Drugs, hippies, free love and acid-pop – the formula once again includes Nicholson, this time in a starring role. The Storybook, an obscure California band, provides the soundtrack for this exploration of “the pleasure lovers” who will “ask for a dime with hungry eyes … but they’ll give you love — for NOTHING!”

 “Head” (1968): The Monkees confounded their audience with this dark, enigmatic satire of America’s everyday “Matrix”-like futility. This is the twisted flip side of the cuddly, lovable bubblegum band of prime-time childhood dreams, with cameos by Frank Zappa and Annette Funicello, and a killer soundtrack that includes the Monkees’ psych-pop gem, “Porpoise Song,” written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin.

“Sympathy for the Devil” (1968): French director Jean-Luc Godard’s first English language film is essentially a collage of documentary footage, fictional scenes and political readings. It’s a jumble, primarily notable for its fly-on-the-wall depiction of the Rolling Stones developing the title song in a London studio.

“Zabriskie Point” (1970): Italian visionary Michelangelo Antonioni dove deep into American counterculture with this visual and sonic spectacle, loosely organized around a student protest. Music flows from Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones and John Fahey, among others. Roy Orbison wrote and sang the theme song, “So Young.”

“Woodstock” (1970): A three-hour concert documentary of the quintessential ‘60s festival, and so much more. In between footage of the Who, Joan Baez, Crosby Stills & Nash, Jimi Hendrix (including the iconic moment when he conjures the bombs bursting in air during “The Star-Spangled Banner”), Santana and dozens more, director Michael Wadleigh sought out everyone from the townsfolk and policemen to the stoned hippies for front-line perspective. The mood isn’t all one of mud-and-flowers utopia. A sanitation worker cleaning out a portable toilet reports that one of his sons is attending the festival while another couldn’t make it because he was in Vietnam.

“Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii” (1972): Still a year away from mega-stardom, the British quartet turned a concert in an amphitheater in Italy into an art film. The cutaways aren’t to the audience — there is none — but to the ancient ruins, which give this enterprise an appropriately surreal aura.

“The Song Remains the Same” (1976): Late to the game, perhaps, but Led Zeppelin were not to be outdone in the self-indulgent concert-documentary sweepstakes. The performance footage was actually drawn from a 1973 stand at Madison Square Garden, but took three years to fashion into a film as the band tinkered with “fantasia” vignettes from each band member. Where else are you going to see Jimmy Page climb a mountaintop to meet a hooded wizard or Robert Plant wield a flaming sword? Golden gods? Perhaps. “Lord of the Rings” super fans? Undoubtedly.

Greg Kot is the editorial director of The Coda Collection. He is also the cohost of the nationally syndicated public-radio show and podcast “Sound Opinions” with Jim DeRogatis, and previously the music critic at the Chicago Tribune for 30 years. His books include acclaimed biographies of Mavis Staples (“I’ll Take You There”) and Wilco (“Learning How to Die”) and a history of the digital music revolution (“Ripped”). He also coauthored “The Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Rivalry” and has written extensively for Rolling Stone, BBC Culture and Encyclopedia Britannica. When he takes off the headphones, Kot coaches in his Chicago-based youth travel basketball program (OTEhoops.com). In addition, he has coauthored two best-selling editions of the book “Survival Guide to Coaching Youth Basketball.”

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