THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
They don't make too many movies condoning drug use anymore. Every once in a while, there will be a pot comedy (Your Highness, the Harold & Kumar pictures), or one that portrays use of hallucinogenic drugs in an exaggerated, almost silly manner (The Night Before). Roger Corman's 1967 film The Trip scripted by none other than Jack Nicholson is an ode to the alleged joys of LSD. Made during the height of a groovy, mind-expanding era, it seems positively bizarre today. And that's what makes it such a captivating curio. The Trip comes to Blu-Ray from Olive Films on March 22.
Peter Fonda stars as Paul Groves, a TV commercial director experiencing both personal and professional dissatisfaction. For enlightenment, he decides to try LSD for the first time. His friend John (Bruce Dern) gives him a dose and promises to stay right by his side, monitoring the trip to make sure everything goes okay. Dennis Hopper also stars as a drug-culture maven who offers some pre-trip words of wisdom, while Susan Strasberg portrays Paul's estranged wife.
Paul's trip does indeed open his consciousness. He hallucinates that he's being chased by a cult. Political, religious, and sexual imagery flash through his mind. (Actually, a lot of sexual imagery is present.) Late in the film, he escapes John's watch and ends up roaming the streets of Los Angeles, where he wanders into a laundromat and becomes obsessed with the transformative properties of a washing machine. In another scene, he feels physically threatened by a chair. You can't say the movie doesn't have a sense of humor. Or maybe these things were dead serious in 1967 and just seem funny now. Either way, the drug leads Paul to a personal revelation in the story's final moments.
The Trip is designed to capture, in cinematic style, the effect of taking LSD. Strobe lights, kaleidoscope effects, and other things are used to create a mind-bending visual experience that replicates what Paul is going through. There's a section toward the end when his trip is reaching fever pitch that is an extended montage of disparate images edited together in rapid-fire manner. Editor Ronald Sinclair should have been given some sort of medal for what had to have been grueling work. Visually, the movie does exactly what it sets out to do: give you a hallucinogenic time.
Critically reviled in its day the New York Times' Bosley Crowther said all viewers would take away from the film was a painful case of eye-strain and perhaps a detached retina The Trip has evolved into a fascinating relic. It's not conventionally a good movie; there's little plot to speak of, and 83 minutes of psychedelia becomes a touch repetitive. Nonetheless, it speaks to a time when American culture was receptive to drug use, viewing it as something that had more benefits than hazards. We know now that isn't true, but it's interesting to look back anyway. This is where a lot of people were at in the mid- to late-1960s. From its themes, to its visuals, to its overall counterculture vibe, The Trip offers a glimpse at drug experimentation in a previous era that will have value to anyone curious about the subject.
Plus, how can you resist checking out a collaboration between Corman, Nicholson, Fonda, Dern, and Hopper?
Olive Films' Blu-Ray transfer is stunningly good. The Trip looks as sharp and crisp as a low-budget movie from the '60s possibly could. In fact, it's doubtful the film looked this good at the time. The original theatrical trailer is included on the disc.
For more information on this title, please visit the Olive Films website.
The Trip is rated R for language, sexual content, and drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 23 minutes.
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