The Trip (1967) (Blu-ray)
(Olive Films, 3.22.2016)
As of April 5th, Roger Corman has been going strong for an impressive 90 years, but he only spent 16 of those years (1955-1971) actively directing movies. (He made one last bonus film, Frankenstein Unbound, in 1990.) Thanks to his incredibly thrifty and efficient approach to independent filmmaking, he was able to direct roughly 50 movies during that time. While he broke new ground in beatnik horror-comedy (Bucket of Blood), racially charged drama (The Intruder), Faustian sci-fi (X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes), biker anthropology (The Wild Angels), and gothic aesthetics (the Poe Cycle), a case could be made that his most daring and groundbreaking movie was his one-off foray into psychedelia: 1967's The Trip.
Thanks to modest budgets and unrealistic shooting schedules, Corman's film's weren't always coherent -- The Terror comes to mind, though Corman is one of only five or six directors who worked on that one -- but they always conformed to the narrative requirements of their era. However, by the time The Trip came along, movie audiences had been loosened up by two important influences: European cinema and drugs. When he directed The Trip, Corman went to town with both of those influences, discarding narrative, in order to immerse viewers in something approximating an acid trip. In subsequent years, The Trip's psychedelic tendencies were apparent in films like El Topo, Head, Psych-Out, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Easy Rider, but Corman got there first. (The latter film is an especially important point of reference, as stars Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson all contributed to The Trip.)
Of course, The Trip is not without its shortcomings. Bruce Dern's typically moody presence is somewhat off-putting and the film occasionally gets too broadly Fellini-esque, but its sense of exploration and openness remains refreshing 49 years later. Those prone to make fun of the '60s will find punchlines everywhere in The Trip, but unlike so much of today's culture, this film is daringly unafraid of judgment. It should also be lauded for using the medium to sincerely explore the unknown, rather than repeat the cautionary cliches of so many other drug movies.
Over the years, the film's intentions weren't entirely clear because American International forced Corman to (a) preface the film with an anti-LSD disclaimer and (b) conclude with a buzz-killing shattered glass effect. With little fanfare, Olive Films has released a version that restores the film to Corman's original intentions, correcting both the opening and the finale. While this strips The Trip of some intriguing historical context, it makes for a more timeless experience that honours Corman's non-judgemental approach. Ultimately, there's no better case for LSD than The Trip: Corman only tried the drug once, but it inspired the best film of his career. -- Jonathan Doyle