After the decline of the Studio System, Hollywood had to adapt to the changing audience. The American youth was gaining more power through countercultural movements in the 60s and the advent of the drug culture. With the Vietnam War raging overseas, the youth grew more and more suspicious of authority and the government. The films emerging from this cultural turbulence can be classified as New Hollywood. For the first time, the directors of this movement had attended film school and returned with a breadth of aesthetic knowledge to apply to their films. Some of the thematic characteristics are iconoclasm, anti-establishment, sex, drugs and rock and roll. These themes were achieved through aesthetics such as open endings, non-linear narratives, location shooting and an emphasis on realism. Easy Rider (1969) by Dennis Hopper is perhaps the most poignant film to emerge from New Hollywood. This film exemplifies New Hollywood's thematic, aesthetic and industrial concerns through the use of location shooting, an emphasis on realism, a more lax ratings system and countercultural themes, especially in the scene in which the two men take acid.
The acid trip scene successfully mirrors the culture of the time. American youth were experimenting more with drugs, sex and ideals. This scene not only shows the men taking acid, but portrays their trip through a series of disjunctive images. The women, who are also on acid, are either naked or engaging in sexual acts with the men. This also mirrors the cultural themes of the 60s with the loosening of sexual standards for men and women. Perhaps the most prevalent theme of this scene is the lack of negative light cast on doing a hard drug like acid. It is almost romanticized instead of cautioning the audience about the dangers of acid.
This scene accurately portrays the hallucinations of an acid trip, adhering to the emphasis on realism that New Hollywood was known for. First, the scene is shot on location in New Orleans. Taking the production out of the studios emphasizes the reality of the scene due to the uniqueness of the New Orleans cemetery. The scene is also heavily reliant on natural lighting. The light leaks and shadows cast by the real cemetery make the acid trip feel authentic. The non-linear construction of images creates a disjunctive narrative that, again, authenticates the acid trip. Flashes of spinning branches are intercut between images of the woman stripping and the man holding the bible. These are just a few images out of the many, rapidly cut shots that construct a realistic acid trip.
All of these thematic and aesthetic features of the acid trip scene were achieved by the removal of the Hays Code. In its place, the new ratings system was set up. This system allowed for more controversial themes in the films emerging from the New Hollywood era. The acid trip was a graphic portrayal of a hard drug's hallucinogenic properties. Before the ratings system, this kind of controversial content would not make it into the final cut of the film. The ratings system also allowed the films to portray more realistic characters because of the allowance of controversial content.
Easy Rider emerged from the New Hollywood era as an extremely influential film. The anti-establishment theme coupled with the characters' yearning for a new order and countercultural interactions created a youthful, iconoclastic film that adhered to the aesthetics, themes and cultural references of the time.