After making several Edgar Allen Poe films, prolific producer-director Roger Corman wanted to experience the reality of location shoots, and the antithesis of gothic horror. American International Pictures [AIP] let him make "Wild Angels," and using a new scenario by Jack Nicholson, Corman followed up with another youth film about a director who wants to experience an LSD trip for himself. Moving to an antithesis of his own, Peter Fonda went from biker dude in "Wild Angels" to a turtlenecked ad director, and Bruce Dern enjoyed a similar change from trippy hippie in "Psych-Out" to Fonda's dream guide, patterned after Dr. Timothy Leary.
Though Nicholson's screenplay reflected the actor/writer's own hallucinatory adventures, Corman also consulted Leary's book as a Berlitz guide to Pharmaceutical Enlightenment, and along with some of the crew, went out to Big Sur, dropped acid, and felt ready to tackle an initially neutral film on taking drugs. By 1967, AIP was becoming a less amenable studio for Corman's desires to expand film subjects and technique, and concerned that "The Trip" may be seen as a pro-drug, how-to manual, the studio slapped on a deadly serious text prologue, and an optical effect at the end to make it clear to kids that Drugs Are Bad.
Shot in real hippie homes, more than 90% of the painted walls and shimmering décor were extant, and Corman also engaged 'counterculture' consultant Leon Erickson to ensure all locations weren't just true to the drug culture, but faithful to Nicholson's décor-specific screenplay.
Corman's 1991 autobiography is tinged with an obvious, revisionist slant - the B-movie director inferring very eloquently that each of his films intentionally contain deep philosophical and cultural meanings - but most of the commentary deals with practical production details, and like the autobiography, is relatively concise. There's little duplication of information in the commentary and accompanying featurettes, but after thirty minutes, Corman is frequently silent, and has very little to say for the remaining forty-odd minutes, making the track very spotty in the end.
Covering key cast members and production details, better material is found in the excellent featurettes that bring in more lively interview subjects.
"Tune In… Trip Out" is a featurette that adds Corman, Bruce Dern, and esteemed cinematographer Allen Daviau - who was partly responsible for the film's very cool trippy effects. Some will be pretty surprised to hear Dern wasn't taking drugs like other cast members - due to his disciplined marathon runs, making his performance all the more appreciated - and in describing the original screenplay, he does a dead-on Jack Nicholson imitation. Dern also adds a great punchline to Corman's one-time LSD trip (which involved an extended Jules Verne journey of sorts), and makes some sharp points about why independent filmmakers of the period managed to produce dynamic movies and advance the art form by several leaps when studios were floundering with antiquated product. Corman also details the film's look, and the featurette includes a few stills of topless models being body-painted for Fonda's stopover in a local club.
The visuals are given more precise examinations by Daviau in "Psychedelic Film Effects," covering the still effective Love Scene (which used a small battalion of custom gizmos, operated by Daviau and colleagues Bob Beck, and Peter Gardiner), the Club Sequence, and Fonda's Return to Reality at the end, which mixed a plethora of wildly textured filters, stills, solarized footage, and trick lenses.
For those wanting a constant background pattern, the disc also comes with a looped "Psychedelic Light Box" - basically a montage of trippy effects and, of course, the Love Scene - set to score cuts by 'The American Music Band' (aka blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield and The Electric Flag, which is happily available on CD.)
A nice addition is an edited version of the March 1968 issue of American Cinematographer, which features production and technical stills (some used in the "Film Effects" featurette) and selected paragraphs, relating to the creation of strobe lights and wild colour effects.
An excellent anamorphic transfer with good mono sound, "The Trip" DVD is topped off with the original trailer that uses a Peter Fonda narrative intro, and mixes music and dialogue without any credits.
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan