Friday, July 18, 2008

THE TRIP (1967)

Peter Fonda, a director of hip TV commercials, is in the midst of a divorce from Susan Strasberg. When smoking pot with his friends (including Dennis Hopper) at an incredibly psychedelic Haight/Ashbury house doesn't chill him out enough, Bruce Dern offers to be his guide for an acid trip, his main advice being a quote from Timothy Leary by way of the Beatles: "Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream." The rest of the movie is Fonda's day-long trip; we shuttle back and forth between his visions and objective "real life." A pastoral stroll turns into a creepy chase through a medieval wood. A dip in Dern's very nifty pool (half inside, half outside) turns Fonda into a sobbing, naked mess. Hopper appears in his visions as an inquisitor, haranguing him about his commercials. He imagines making love to Strasberg as swirly light-show projections play over their bodies. He also freaks out about death and, later in the evening, Fonda has a vision of Dern lying dead in his living room, and he races out into the night for a series of minor adventures: he breaks into a suburban house and watches TV with a little girl, chats up a bemused woman at a laundromat, goes to a disco, and picks up a woman for more swirly, light-show sex. In an ambiguous finale, Fonda wakes up the next morning and claims that the trip was an insightful, positive experience, but at the final freeze frame, his image cracks like a broken mirror.

Since this film is a relic of the psychedelic era, I was expecting it to be a terribly dated, garish, and preachy experience that I would give up on halfway through. Surprisingly, it still holds up all these years later, albeit more as a novelty than as a truly gripping film, but an honorable novelty nonetheless. Corman dropped acid at least once to see what it was like before filming--I could make an educated guess that Fonda and Hopper already knew, though Dern was actually vehemently anti-drug. The most effective scenes are the sex scenes; the lights projected on bodies add an interesting texture to the proceedings. Fonda's "real life" interactions while he's high (especially the nighttime ones) ring truer than the "visions," which look like outtakes from some of Corman's Poe movies. The scene in which Dern preps Fonda for the trip comes off like a gay porn moment--a lot of tension building as Fonda says, "I'm nervous," and Dern replies, "Relax, man, you're beautiful." Hopper, shirtless, comes off like a genuine stoned blond surfer dude. The big Victorian psychedelic house is wildly cool but a little too crisply bright in its colors to seem real. Jack Nicholson wrote the screenplay, and the producers, apparently worried that the film portrayed an LSD trip too positively, forced Corman to add an opening disclaimer and the "mirror crack" shot at the end. Corman regulars Dick Miller, (A BUCKET OF BLOOD), Barboura Morris, Luana Anders, and Beach Dickerson (CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA) appear in small roles. The music, some by the Electric Flag, is disappointing; a bigger budget might have let them use Jefferson Airplane. Much easier to sit through than I would have thought, though I prefer Corman is his horror mode. [DVD]

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