Before watching The Trip, I never would have pictured the master of schlock, Roger Corman, to have created anything but B-movie genre fare. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very much a fan of his many sci-fi/horror entries, which have given me endless hours of fun. Yet it wasn’t until I saw 1967’s The Trip that I realized what a perceptive and visually talented director Corman could be.
A document of the late ’60s if there ever was one, The Trip centers on television commercial director Paul (Peter Fonda), who currently finds himself frustrated by the state of both his personal and professional lives. Creatively, Paul’s work has hit a roadblock, while at the same time, he’s putting off signing the papers that will effectively end his marriage to Sally (Susan Strasberg). When close friend John (Bruce Dern) invites Paul over to try LSD for the first time, insisting it will help to alleviate some of his worries, he embarks on a mind-bending journey like nothing he’s ever experienced before.
As a spectator, watching Paul experience LSD for the first time is interesting in terms of the real and imagined effects it has on him. Seeing him holding an orange outside while on the drug, proclaiming that he’s holding the sun in his hands, and then imagining he’s in wildly different places such as in the desert, at the beach, and in a spooky old mansion shows the incredibly heightened areas one’s imagination travels to while on acid. Meanwhile, the scene where he is on LSD and imagines himself being put on trial for his life illustrates the self-revelatory effects many people claim to experience while on hallucinatory drugs. The Trip eventually becomes a fascinating study when Paul wanders around the surrounding neighborhood and city street while still tripping, with every place he ventures into feeling like a wonderland for him, even though it is completely ordinary.
When the audience sees what Paul is seeing through the drug, The Trip instantly becomes the most artistic that Corman has ever allowed himself to be with any film he’s made. This is perhaps one of the most gorgeous films to ever come out of its era. In trying to emulate the drug experience on film, The Trip’s assortment of kaleidoscopic images captures colors in that great ’60s way, all of which jump off the screen and make you literally want to be part of the decade. Every frame of Paul tripping out on acid features one highly colorful and expressionistic image after another, allowing Corman to be incredibly abstract as a filmmaker. One many not consider Corman to be an Auteur, but The Trip suggests a definite approach which echoes some of the greatest experimenters of cinema’s past.
There are a great assortment of character actors, most of whom were part of Corman’s stable during that period, including Dennis Hopper and Dick Miller. Dern is fantastic in a rare, early non-heavy role, but The Trip is clearly a showcase for Fonda. His performance is a bit rough around the edges at first, but works for the period and the kind of film he’s starring in. Eventually the duality of his role ends up shining through. He’s innocent and a bit frightened in the psychedelic sequences and wonderfully spacey in the real world scenes when he’s still under the drug’s power.
The screenplay for The Trip was written by frequent Corman collaborator Jack Nicholson, and it definitely shows. Like some of Nicholson’s other writing credits, the script has a wonderful feeling of a story that doesn’t conform to the standard narrative structure, but rather just…is. Because of its content, The Trip wasn’t shown in the UK until the early 2000s, which is rather odd since the whole affair ends up becoming something of an anti-drug film towards the end due to the fact that most of what Paul experienced was part of a bad trip rather than a good one. In the end, however, Corman wanted to make a film which would illustrate the sensory experience of being on drugs and merge it with the power of cinema. The fact that he succeeded cannot be argued.
The Trip is now available on Blu-ray from Olive Films.