Everybody knows Jack Nicholson as an Academy Award winning actor, but his talents aren’t just in front of the camera. He does have a handful of writing credits sprinkled throughout his career. One film that I always remember Nicholson had a hand in writing is Head…the 1968 film debut of the made-for-tv band The Monkees. The film is a crazy psychedelic romp and makes an interesting companion piece to the film we’re looking at today, which was also written by Nicholson. Released a year earlier, it’s a journey through the mind of a man as he trips out on LSD for the first time. Director Roger Corman is our guide for 1967’s The Trip.
The film centers on Paul Groves (Peter Fonda), a director of television commercials who is struggling through a divorce with his wife (Susan Strasberg). One day, Paul accompanies his friend John (Bruce Dern) to a house where a group of hippies (including Dennis Hopper) live. The two head up to an upper room where John will guide Paul through his first experience with LSD.
From here, much of the film is devoted the strange images going through Paul’s mind. He spends some time in a medieval setting where a dwarf (played by an uncredited Angelo Rossitto, aka Master from Beyond Thunderdome) gives him some soup and he walks around with some dudes on black horses that look like ringwraiths. Later he ends up in a gothic castle (a set no doubt borrowed from some of Corman’s Poe films) and sees himself burned alive in a strange ceremony. Stranger still is when Max (Hopper) shows up to in the visions to lecture Paul while riding around on a small carousel, a bit like the coin-op ones that used to be in front of K-Mart stores when I was a kid. As things get more intense, Paul keeps asking John to bring him out…but John just keeps telling him to go with it. However, when Paul sees what appears to be John’s murdered body he panics and bolts. Now he’s on the loose in LA and ends up freaking out a lady in a laundromat and breaking into a suburban home to watch some TV. It all ends in a sexual encounter with a hippie girl named Glenn (Sali Sachse).
The story of The Trip is pretty slim. It’s really just a thread there to string together a series of wild visuals…and I can’t say that I minded it at all. Visually speaking, the film is a real treat. The version I watched is the new DVD released by Olive Films and the colors just absolutely pop! There’s a unique mix of different looks when it comes to the various elements of Fonda’s visions. Some are light and cheery while others are very dark and sinister. Of course, there’s a healthy dose of psychedelic, lava-lamp style images projected on people’s bodies in various scenes. One scene in particular is a pretty intense and drawn-out love scene that probably would’ve been too intense for the censors of the time if it had not been filmed with the psychedelic images being projected on Fonda and Strasberg’s bodies. It should be said also that Corman does a very skillful job of bringing together the visuals and the music, most of which is provided by Electric Flag.
Peter Fonda is very good in the lead role. In fact, I think I liked him better in this than in Easy Rider, which I just watched for the first time a few weeks ago. Fonda has aneveryman quality to his approach in this film which I think helps bring us into what he’s experiencing. I didn’t find him to be as relatable in Easy Rider. Speaking of Easy Rider, we’ve also got Dennis Hopper, who I think has probably showed up in many people’s actual LSD hallucinations over the years. Hopper is Hopper. I don’t think I can even call what he’s doing a performance…he just is what he is and it’s a joy to behold. Speaking of Hopper, the dude totally borrowed a shot Corman uses here for Easy Rider a year later. It’s the moment where a joint is passed around a circle and the camera follows it 360 degrees as it moves from person to person. Bruce Dern doesn’t get as much chance to shine. His character actually comes across as somewhat sadistic; taking great pleasure in watching Fonda freak out. Early on he tells Fonda that he just has to give the word and he’ll bring him out of the trip,but when Fonda begs him to he’s just like “roll with it man.” What a jerk. Probably my favorite member of the cast, though is Barboura Morris as the woman Fonda encounters doing her laundry. She’s funny and is given some great dialogue to work with. The scene is probably the best moment of Nicholson’s script.
The Trip certainly lives up to its name. It’s not a movie that gets caught up in trying to be overly important. It’s there to take the audience on…well, a trip. It doesn’t waste its time with a lot of setup or explanations. We’re given all we need to know: Fonda’s character is going through a divorce and tries to ease his pain a bit with LSD. From there we’re off to the races. Between Nicholson’s script, Corman’s direction, and a solid cast we end up with a creative and visually striking film that is certainly trippy.
Note: The Trip has just been released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Olive Films. Thanks to them for providing a copy of the film for this review.