Sixties Time Capsule: ‘The Trip’ (1967)

Roger Corman quickly subverted these “commercial” tropes when he directed The Trip (1967). Right under the cusp of the crumbling Hollywood Production Code, it follows Paul Groves’ (Peter Fonda) decent into madness after taking LSD. An unprecedented amount of focus was finally placed among the mystery surrounding the drug scene of the sixties. Nearly every one of the cast and crew members were on drugs, and Corman himself took LSD in order to accurately depict what it was like; although he never had a bad trip, so he had to do a little more digging to uncover how that felt.

Jack Nicholson provided the screenplay for the film, and based it around his experience using LSD and of his failed marriage. It explores the relevance drugs had in personal growth and the journey of tripping, while also defiantly calling out the greed of commercialism in the modern age. Max’s (Dennis Hopper) conversation with Paul about how people make a living off lying (reference to commercials themselves) is a prime example of the hippies’ cultural rejection of the norm. “But it works,” Alex claims. Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of The Trip is the color grain. The opening shots of Sally Groves (Susan Strasberg) walking across the horizon of the baby-blue ocean in her pink suit amplify the sensational reaction to the screen. These colors never truly fade from being vibrant; even during Paul’s decent to the underworld.

When Paul is tripping at John’s (Bruce Dern) house, the score doesn’t perpetrate the scenes in the way it does when the frame shifts into the alternate reality of the trip. However, the moment he goes on his late-night adventure it becomes a character itself. Corman blends the use of the music against the intense, and even overwhelming, cuts. More than 2,500 cuts were implemented to secure that response the spectator is supposed to have—to be tripping with the characters. The seamless editing traverses across time, weaving a seamless tapestry of commingled night and day. In that regard, The Trip is flawless and serves as a technical achievement more than anything.

Because of the revolutionary nature of the plot, and technique, it was the only American film to be selected for the Cannes Film Festival in 1967. But in many ways, Hollywood wouldn’t accept the truest form of the film. During a relatively short scene after Paul ventures off, he stumbles upon a house where the television set is playing a news segment about the Vietnam War. There is an optical zoom-in made during post-production to eliminate the screen from the wide shot, and when the screen is finally shown in an over-shoulder composition, the image is blurred and only the dialogue is heard.  Even as the Motion Picture Code finally broke, censorship was still relevant and many films had an uphill struggle to maintain their authenticity to the script and the director’s vision. Luckily, that hurdle didn’t stop Corman and company from making a bold statement about the culture and different ways of life.

Still from The Trip

Author: Jared Charles

I am the owner of The Burrow Reviews. Currently studying Film, English, Political Science, and Gender Studies.

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