Trip, The: Revisiting Corman’s 1967 LSD Movie

Provincetown Film Fest–A recent re-viewing of Roger Corman’s The Trip reaffirmed my initial response to it back in the 1970s–when I was an undergrad student at Columbia University–that it’s a hip but ultimately disappointing feature.

Sooner or later, there had to be a picture about the LSD phenom. Made in 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War and social chaos in American society, “The Trip” was a bold event, a psychedelic odyssey about the presumably positive elements of LSD.

But the movie is too shallow and too soft, considering the fact that its surreal screenplay was co-written by Jack Nicholson, just before he became a movie star in “Easy Riders,” two years later.

Peter Fonda, who would co-star and co-direct “Easy Riders,” plays Paul Groves, a TV commercial director whose estranged wife, Sally, (Susan Strasberg, daughter of Method Acting guru, Lee Strasberg), puts pressure on him to finalize their divorce papers so that she could be free.

Under pressures in his professional and personal life, Paul talks to a guru named John (Bruce Dern), who suggests an acid trip as a miracle cure. Desperate, Paul accepts John’s idea and, voila, the trip begins. At first, the experience is calm and moderate, but when a sexy blonde hippie invades his hallucinations, it threatens to become something totally different.

In the process, Paul experiences sexual couplings, paranoia, and even visions of his own funeral, all events that reflected the zeitgeist of the late 1960s.

Turning point occurs when the panicky Paul rushes out to the streets and is “rescued” into a beach house where he completes his trip. After the trip, Paul is convinced he has been reborn.

The cast also includes Dennis Hopper, Katherine Walsh, Luana Anders, Judy Lang, and Frankie Smith.

When I saw the movie at the 2012 Provincetown Film Fest, at the neighboring Drive-In in Wellfleet, one of the country’s few remaining sites of this scale, the largely gay and lesbian audience seemed to enjoy it more as a nostalgic trip than as a movie movie.

“The Trip” is not utterly forgettable, due to some striking images, imaginative camera movements, and some intriguing psychedelic atmosphere.

When the movie was initially released, Time magazine wrote: “‘The Trip’ is a psychedelic tour through the bent mind of Peter Fonda, which is evidently full of old movies. In a flurry of flesh, mattresses, flashing lights and kaleidoscopic patterns, an alert viewer will spot some fancy business from such classics as ‘The Seventh Seal,’ ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ even ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ Eventually, in a scene that is right out of Fellini’s ’81/2,’ Fonda perches on a merry-go-round while a robed judge gravely spells out his previous sins and inadequacies.”

Nearly half a century later, the quickly-made, low-budget “The Trip” remains a curio item if there ever was one, more significant as socio-cultural than filmic experience per se.

Released by American International

Running time: 85 Minutes.
Directed and co-written by Roger Corman
Written by Corman and Jack Nicholson