Monday, 20 July 2015

THE TRIP (1967)

THE TRIP (1967)

This psychedelic account of LSD and its effects is neither a high nor a 'bummer' - it's entertainingly, hilariously bad - yet strangely watchable and valid as a period piece.

Beginning with a sober disclaimer warning of the societal dangers of taking the drug, the film delivers us a cinematic trip that would probably put anyone off experimenting with mind-altering chemicals, including film studios. This Jack Nicholson scripted, Roger Corman directed exploitation vehicle introduces us to Paul Groves (Peter Fonda) a TV commercials director undergoing divorce and possibly a lobotomy judging by his performance. He decides to try taking LSD to expand his consciousness and acting ability, facilitated by Bruce Dern as his bearded groovy guide (always a warning sign) and a clean-cut beaded Dennis Hopper as his friend/nemesis - and for the next hour he takes us on a journey through his altered state of mind and the real L.A streets in his pursuit of the truth. Or something.

There's a number of enjoyable things about this movie. The dialogue is highly amusing and quotable, composed of quaintly dated periodisms: 'You're beautiful, man',  'Groovy'. At one point, as the fear grips him Fonda becomes paranoid about Dern's motives: 'Don’t make any demands on my head, man. I know your scene!'. There are even unintentional double entendres; 'I just flashed a girl' says Fonda in wonderment, getting his first vision (possibly of impending arrest).

Our hero is soon interrogated by an LSD dream version of Hopper, who cross-examines him about the spiritual bankruptcy of his work and bombards him with such topical slide images as LBJ and Sophia Loren. He decodes them for Fonda with meaningful meaninglessness:  'The messengers were infants...and the very very old'. The defendant counters: 'It's a living', (incidentally the same defence Dom Deluise uses for dressing up as Captain Chaos in THE CANNONBALL RUN). The script is full of impenetrable, heavy-handed symbolic references like this. They may be connected to the Reichian sexual energy Nicholson was exploring back then. Your guess is as good as mine. Earlier, Dern is enchanted by the way Fonda  talks about ‘The LIVING room…’ stressing the word to hammer home an inexplicable point. The young drug voyager is forced to plead guilty and the flashes back, forwards and sideways continue thick and fast.

Fonda's naive central character is also entertaining in the absurd fast-cut hallucinogenic sequences that ensue. He imagines himself running across desert dunes in a puffy-sleeved shirt like a Spanish waiter in a Turkish Delight advert (a deliberate satire of his work?), intercut with imagining himself ritually burnt at a funeral by medieval monks and midgets. These crazily-edited location images foreshadow Nicholson and Rafelson's HEAD which they made the following year. Regardless, mostly strolling around in his real-world v-neck sweater and slacks, Fonda somehow handles these bizarre assaults on his psyche like a pro, a slightly perplexed golf pro actually. At other times he has a peculiarly endearing way of trying to earnestly explain what he is experiencing, but comes across as a gauche Blue Peter presenter reporting from Woodstock. When not extolling the infinite depths inherent in an orange, he is spellbound by the workings of a launderette washing machine. He notices a young woman awaiting her wash and asks with frightening intensity 'Can I talk to YOU?' She returns his serve with the schoolboy snigger-inducer 'I've got a big load in there'. There's a big load out here too and in the last few minutes we're subjected to a curiously exhilarating long barrage of rapid-fire subliminal images summarising the trip so far until finally Fonda 'comes down', feeling that his innr journey has been worthwhile. The final image is an optical effect of his face shattering like a portrait: a striking image yet we’re unsure what it signifies. The breaking down of his old self-image? His disappointed agent dumping his promotional photos?

I should mention that the version I saw was only seventy-nine minutes, which suggests it was cut. I'd be intrigued to see more despite a suspicion that a longer trip is not necessarily a more enlightening one..

Amidst the pretensious psychobabble, the film is fun, stylistically challenging and has some infectious late 60s psychedelic music underscoring the travels. The modish use of in-camera slide projection effects onto faces and bodies is also very effective.  It’s a truly trippy, bonkers curio of themes and attitudes that manages to capture a counter-culture moment in time.

Turn on, tune in, and if you like eccentric celluloid archive pieces don't drop out....

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