On film, some of Peter Fonda's characters live as outlaws. But it wasn't a pound of weed that caused the actor-director's mid-'70s run-in with the local Johnny Law. Instead, it was harboring underage skaters. "I was filming Future World down at the Johnson Space Center," the 64-year-old remembers. "And the security guard popped my two sons for skateboarding in the astronaut training tunnels."
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This weekend, he'll be back for screenings and talks on two of his films: 1969's Easy Rider -- the "little motorcycle movie" that became a hugely influential counterculture classic -- and 1971's Hired Hand, his existentialist Western and directorial debut. The program benefits the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's film department.
Fonda's best-known work, Easy Rider is the story of two bike-riding drug runners (Fonda and Dennis Hopper) and a spacey lawyer (Jack Nicholson) along for the ride in search of "the real America." Its loose narrative, on-the-fly shooting and rock soundtrack were immediately hailed as groundbreaking. The pop-culture touchstone is now part of the National Archives.
Part of the MFAH Film Benefit Weekend, beginning with The Hired Hand at 7 p.m. Friday, September 17; for information and a full schedule, call 713-639-7593 or visit www. mfah.org. Admission prices start at $25.
But Fonda is more interested in discussing The Hired Hand, with its contemplative characters and intense, highly developed male bonding, which set it worlds apart from standard John Wayne fare. "The Western film is the most respected and understandable way of dealing with American mythology," he says. Does the movie's male friendship have sexual overtones? Absolutely not, says Fonda. "A deep relationship between two straight men shouldn't be [tagged] 'homosexual' at all. That's the result of a lot of homophobia." Glad we cleared that up.
These days, Fonda is encouraged by all the venues open for independent projects -- from festivals to cable channels like Sundance and the Independent Film Channel. "It certainly helps in making back production costs," Fonda says. "And you don't just want to show your work to your friends in a closet!"