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Saturday, March 12, 2016

THE TRIP -- DVD Review by Porfle

Sometime in the heady days of the late psychedelic 60s, the already legendary independent filmmaker Roger Corman decided--not for the first time--to do something just a little different. 

The result, which would tickle the fancy of counterculture audiences while raising the hackles of the straight crowd, was THE TRIP (1967), the story of a man's chemically-fueled journey into his own head.  (A fitting tagline for the film would've been "It's all in his head.")

The man in question is a young Peter Fonda as a television commercial director who's in the process of getting divorced by his wife. Peter can't seem to find meaning in his life, so he decides to take the new drug LSD which is supposed to open up the mind and lead one into a whole new universe of awareness.

With his trusted friend Bruce Dern to act as both a guide and a sort of comforting guru, Peter takes the drug and is swept into a sometimes dazzling, sometimes frightening mental odyssey which takes up the entire rest of the picture.

Much of it consists of the kind of psychedelic op-art visuals which were meant in those days to give us the impression of what an LSD trip was like, accompanied by some vintage acid rock by a group called The American Music Band (aka The Electric Flag). 

There are occasional bits with that jumbled, thrown-together look of the Monkees' celluloid oddity HEAD (which scripter Jack Nicholson also co-wrote) with a little "H.R. Pufnstuf" thrown in.  One or two scenes even appear as though Fonda has landed in one of Corman's own atmospheric Poe movies.

The early scenes in Dern's apartment tend to lag, with Fonda lying around being dazzled by all the kaleidoscope colors and dream images that assail both him and the viewer while the bearded, soft-spoken Dern, who is at his calmest and least villainous here than I've ever seen him, diligently keeps his pal from panicking or tumbling off the balcony. 

Only after Fonda escapes from the safety of Dern's pad does THE TRIP really become eventful, and even then there isn't much of a plot to speak of as he wanders into a sleeping family's house to watch their TV, causes a ruckus at a go-go club managed by Corman regular Dick Miller, and runs from what he imagines is an ever-closing police dragnet, all of which is littered with random imagery and scattershot editing.

There's a lot of stream-of-consciousness stuff dotted with encounters, both real and imagined, between Peter and people such as his soon-to-be-divorced wife Sally (Susan Strasberg), with whom he has psychedelic sex, or a pretty blonde hippie girl (Salli Sachse of the "Beach Party" movies) who strikes his fancy in a big way.

In one of the film's more interesting scenes, a haggard housewife (Barboura Morris of WASP WOMAN and BUCKET OF BLOOD) is doing a load of clothes in a laundrymat when Peter bursts in and freaks out about how amazing the spin cycle is.  Another long, surreal fantasy scene finds the troubled Fonda agonizing over the pros and cons of his life thus far with future EASY RIDER collaborator Dennis Hopper, who's all done up in mod garb. 

To their credit, so to speak, stars Fonda and Hopper as well as Corman himself actually took LSD beforehand in order to understand what they were attempting to depict, as did screenwriter Nicholson, whose script gives us an interesting look inside the head of the superstar-to-be.  

In addition to Hopper, Strasberg, Miller, Morris, and Dern, the cast is dotted with several familiar faces and members of Corman's stock company including Michael Nader ("Dynasty"), Beach Dickerson (CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA), Michael Blodgett (BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS), Angelo Rossitto (FREAKS), and the wonderful Luana Anders (EASY RIDER, THE LAST DETAIL, DEMENTIA 13).

An interesting aspect of Dennis Hopper's involvement is seeing little ways in which Roger Corman's directing style would show up in Hopper's own work on EASY RIDER, notably in the sometimes rapid-fire editing and the composition of the drug sequences.  One particular shot, a 360-degree pan of some people passing a joint around a circular table, is virtually duplicated by Hopper in EASY RIDER with some hippie commune dwellers sitting around the dinner table.

And speaking of EASY RIDER, Peter Fonda gets to emote much more here than he would as the disaffected Wyatt in the later film.  I've never thought much of his early acting before, but I'll have to reconsider that now.  He's fun to watch in this role and helps give the disjointed, unconventional narrative much of its otherwise limited appeal.

The DVD from Olive Films is in widescreen with Dolby 2.0 sound.  No subtitles.  A trailer for the film is the sole extra.  This version of THE TRIP does not include the studio-imposed introductory warning about the dangers of LSD nor a final shot in which a cracked image of Peter Fonda implies his character's shattered psyche.

Whether or not Fonda's truth-seeking everyman derives any valuable insights or revelations from his LSD experience still seems to be pretty much up in the air at the end of THE TRIP.  But for us, this interesting, often fun, and inherently fascinating cinematic odyssey (oddity?) is a trip well worth taking.

Buy it at
Twitter: @OliveFilms
Release date: March 22, 2016


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