Tune In: The Psychedelic Film Experience: The Trip (1967)

FMV Magazine presents Tune In: The Psychedelic Film Experience – a new series that sees Brian Gregory and Tim Wickens take a trip into the world of Psychedelic films. First up is The Trip (1967) directed by Roger Corman and starring Peter Fonda, Susan Strasberg, Bruce Dern and Dennis Hopper. Sit back let your mind float downstream as this week’s guru Tim Wickens takes you on The Trip.

Peter Fonda – this name automatically conjures up images of hippies and the counter culture. He is the man who inspired John Lennon to write She Said, She Said (1966) for The Beatles Revolver album when Fonda said the words,” I know what it’s like to be dead.”, to Lennon at a party. Fonda’s image is forever linked to the hippie times by his turn as Captain America in Easy Rider (1969). He was off in search for an America that never existed. This American Dream of pure love, of brothership, sistership was only the hallucinations of a few. A few who, in a small space in time, dreamed together the possibilities of being as one. Alas as in The Trip and Easy Rider reality set in, a reality held by the normal majority.

Paul Groves (Peter Fonda) is a commercial director in the final stages of divorce with his wife Sally (Susan Strasberg). Enter his pal John (Bruce Dern) who guides him through his first trip on LSD, Lysergic acid diethylamide – better known as Acid. They score the drug from Max (Dennis Hopper) at a place called The Psychedelic Temple amongst stoned hippies with guitars playing in the room of swirling vibrant colors. Back at John’s cool pad atop the Hollywood hills with it’s in ground in-house swimming pool the trip begins. John uses the line of Lennon’s from Tomorrow Never Knows ,”Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream.”, which in turn was inspired by Timothy Leary’s The Psychedelic Experience which in turn was an interpretation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead. You will need heavy drugs to comprehend this meandering turn on of turn ons. Scenes of love making in pulsating vibrant colors projected on bare skin give way to near death.

Paul soon enters the dark world of AIP’s leftover old horror films sets from Roger Corman’s earlier films. Paul returns momentarily naked in the pool. Is this symbolic of his rebirth into full awareness? As he is divorcing does this signal the turn on, tune in, and drop out ethos of the era provided by Timothy Leary?

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From The Beatles we switch to the music of the film which was provided by a band called The Electric Flag: Mike Bloomfield, Buddy Miles, and Barry Goldberg with Paul Beaver hired to add moog synthesizer to the score. Peter Fonda had pushed for Gram Parson’s International Submarine Band but Corman wanted something trippier. Music is essential for all films but more so for movies trying to get you into another space and time. The Electric Flag delivers a score to tip toe through the tulips or ride a white bicycle to or maybe Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd’s Bike. It is at times hypnotic and others a bit haunting with a crazy carousel merry go round movement in one scene, not particularly fond of that one. Bloomfield is a guitar legend having worked with Stephen Stills, Paul Butterfield, Bob Dylan, and Janis Joplin. Bloomfield would die of a drug overdose with his body being found in his car. It is rumored he died earlier possibly at a party but was taken from there. For our purposes Bloomfield lives on like a psychedelic god jamming away to the good vibes of a roomful of hippies.

Could it be a coincidence that the main characters are named John and Paul? Interesting to think that in Britain The Beatles had released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band that suddenly those pop stars were the heads of something completely different. Youth culture was in search of meaning, knowing that peace and All You Need is Love could be found in Haight Ashbury, Penny Lane, and or Strawberry Fields Forever. The swirling kaleidoscope of songs such as Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was shown to full effect by Corman in The Trip. Jack Nicholson crafts a heady story that is really secondary to the sensory enjoyment found on the screen.

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Roger Corman himself took LSD to prepare for this film. A script was also written by another writer but did not provide what Corman wanted so the man that would help give us The Monkees Head (1968) so Jack Nicholson was brought in. Strasbeg is second in the credits but is barely in this film. Instead she is that pink clad love objection of Fonda’s Paul along with blond Salli Sachse. Fonda captures the enthralled at one moment with an orange to being freaked out by a washing machine in the next required. Obviously Fonda did more research than Corman. Now the point of interest for me is the dazzling atmosphere Corman creates. For me this film accomplishes the colors and music schemes along with theme to capture the mental state brought on by drugs. Lastly it is a great time capsule for those times. As a narrative it is or can be hard to fully comprehend but as an imaginitive dreamy hazy look into this psychedelic world it is a must see.

Corman is well known for making low budget films that made money. The Trip was his attempt to score with the new youth culture. One thing about Corman is that he is a director with style and artistic merit. The Trip is a film to tune into and drop out, it creates a visual testament to those times. Let the music of The Electric Flag carry you away. One thing – don’t have Bruce Dern or Dennis Hopper be your trip guide. How could anything go groovy good with those two?

FMV Rating:***1/2

Tune In: The Psychedelic Film Experience continues as newcomer to FMV Magazine Brian Gregory takes a trip of a different kind with The Beatles in Magical Mystery Tour (1967).



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