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The Trip

The Trip(1967)

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The Trip (1967)

In the first five years of the 1960s, low-budget impresario Roger Corman directed a whopping ten costume horror films in the fog-filled soundstages of American International Pictures (among them the Poe-themed House of Usher [1960], Tales of Terror [1962], The Raven [1963], and The Tomb of Ligeia [1964]). To liberate himself from the historical horrors, he devoted the latter half of the decade to exploring more contemporary thrills. The Wild Angels (1966) exploited the widespread fear of and fascination with motorcycle gangs, and gave him his first opportunity to work with actors Peter Fonda and Bruce Dern. Once The Wild Angels was underway, Corman decided to dissect another controversial social phenomenon.

"Like the Angels, and their bikes, the drug subculture was in the headlines," Corman recalled in his memoirs, How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, "LSD, grass, hash, speed, the drug and hippie movement, dropping out, tuning in, free love -- it was all part of a pervasive 'outlaw' anti-Establishment consciousness in the country during the Vietnam era. More and more 'straight' people were dropping out and 'doing their own thing.' I wanted to tell that story as an odyssey on acid."

Before embarking on the shoot of The Trip (1967), Corman (at Fonda's urging) decided to experiment with LSD. To the wary public, Corman claimed the experience "had taken place under strict medical supervision, with a stenographer on hand to record the episode." In reality, Corman organized an informal road trip to the seaside cliffs of Big Sur, where almost all the cast and crew dropped acid -- in shifts. "We finally ended up with almost the equivalent of a motion picture schedule as to what time each person would take it because I didn't want to have something where everybody was zonked out on LSD," Corman recalled, "We had a few people who were straight while the other people are on LSD. And then when the other people came off the LSD and were straight again, then the other group took the LSD." There was no medical supervision, and the stenographer was Corman's story editor and assistant, Frances Doel.

For a while, Corman could feel none of the drug's effects. "I decided to lie down," he wrote in his memoirs, "I spent the next seven hours face down in the ground, beneath a tree, not moving, absorbed in the most wonderful trip imaginable."

Armed with his first-hand experience, Corman set out to capture the psychedelic experience on film. Penned by actor-turned-screenwriter Jack Nicholson, the story revolved around Paul Groves (Peter Fonda), a disenchanted director of television commercials who is on the brink of divorce from his wife Sally (Susan Strasberg). He meets up with his friend John (Bruce Dern), an LSD guru of sorts, who shepherds him through the process of a hallucinatory trip. At a hippie pad presided over by Max (Dennis Hopper), they score several capsules of lysergic acid diethylamide and take it back to John's place. Under John's careful guidance, Paul drops acid and embarks on a series of unpredictable psychic journeys, frequently pursued in his mind by two hooded figures on horseback.

In time, Paul finds it increasingly difficult to distinguish between hallucination and reality. After a momentary freak-out in a coat closet, he has a vision of John slumped dead in a chair. Paul flees the house and rediscovers the world through kaleidoscope eyes: a suburban home, Sunset Boulevard, a frenzied nightclub called the Bead Game, a laundromat, and eventually Max's commune. He hooks up with Glenn (Salli Sachse), a blonde whom he had previously met at the hippie pad, and caps off his psychedelic journey with a moment of sexual awakening.

The highlights of The Trip are the visual effects employed to graphically render Paul's hallucinations. A cinematic funhouse unfettered by the laws of narrative logic, The Trip employs a wide variety of effects, most of which were achieved "in-camera," rather than through post-production processes. So impressive were the achievements of Gardiner, Beck, and Daviau (under unthinkable budgetary restraints), that American Cinematographer devoted a cover story to the film's production.

Upon its completion, AIP was worried that The Trip painted a too rosy picture of the LSD experience, even though Corman had been careful to depict some of the drug's less enjoyable effects. Once Corman had moved on to his next project, AIP attempted to dilute the film's message with a warning. An introductory title scroll was added which characterized the film as a serious examination of a dangerous social ill (rather than a non-judgmental depiction of one man's drug-induced odyssey of self-discovery). AIP also added an optical effect at the end of the film, superimposing a graphic of shattered glass over Paul's head as he rises the next morning. "Everyone -- Jack, Bruce, Peter, Dennis -- objected along with me. It was the wrong message," Corman recalled, "I was behind that message all the way. So, apparently was the public. The Trip took in well over $6 million in rentals. We were clearly on to something here."

Two years later, the drug use of The Trip would be combined with the bikerdom of The Wild Angels and the result was Easy Rider, which reunited Fonda, Hopper, and Nicholson, and revolutionized the counter-cultural American independent film.

Director: Roger Corman
Producer: Roger Corman
Screenplay: Jack Nicholson
Cinematography: Archie R. Dalzell
Production Design: Leon Ericksen
Music: The American Music Band
Cast: Peter Fonda (Paul Groves), Susan Strasberg (Sally Groves), Bruce Dern (John), Salli Sachse (Glenn), Dennis Hopper (Max), Barboura Morris (Flo), Luana Anders (Waitress), Dick Miller (Cash).

by Bret Wood

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The Trip (1967)

Getting the go-ahead from AIP co-founder James H. Nicholson to make his drug odyssey, Corman hired frequent collaborator Charles B. Griffith (The Little Shop of Horrors [1960]) to write a script. Not satisfied with the 36-year-old writer's work, Corman turned to 29-year-old actor Jack Nicholson who, in addition to the occasional starring role, had written a handful of scripts, including Monte Hellman's Ride in the Whirlwind (1965). Nicholson shared Corman's conception for the LSD-fueled drama, and set about writing the script.

"Roger and I had taken acid and we were both serious on the subject," Nicholson later recalled, "I told him I didn't want to write a flat-out exploitation film. He had higher aspirations this time... I had done the Westerns but I had pretty much given up as an actor. I really didn't have much else going then, kind of a journeyman troubleshooter. He knew he couldn't get a writer as good as me through regular ways. I was happy to write it and make a more demanding picture out of it."

AIP co-founder Samuel Z. Arkoff recalled, "The first draft of Jack's script turned out to be immense -- about three inches thick. He had crammed something about nearly every social and political concern of the sixties into it. He also had included so many special effects that it would have challenged the creative talents and the budgets of George Lucas."

The epic script was no fault of Nicholson's. Corman had advised him to pull out all the stops and not worry about special effects and budgetary concerns. They knew in advance that some scenes would be impossible to shoot, but Corman wanted the screenplay to exist in a pure form before they began to cut corners.

According to Peter Collier's book The Fondas: A Hollywood Dynasty, "When he read the script, Peter was so moved he began to cry, and he said to his wife, 'I don't believe it. I don't believe that I'm really going to have a chance, that I get to be in this movie. This is going to be the greatest film ever made in America.' He told [Jack] Nicholson the script was brilliant; it reminded him of something Fellini might have done."

The Trip was shot on a fifteen-day shooting schedule, with a couple of days of pick-ups shoehorned into the post-production schedule. "Today there are people coming out of film school who don't believe that movies can be shot in fifteen days," Corman said, "Back then, fifteen days for us meant a major movie."

Not a director known for dynamic camerawork, Corman clearly intended The Trip to be a visual tour-de-force, and not only in the hallucination scenes. Early in the film are two ambitious shots, more characteristic of a Brian De Palma film of the early 1970s. In one, the camera pans a full 360 degrees as it follows a joint being handed around a circle of people. A few moments later is a 360-degree pan combined with a dolly shot, as Paul walks around the circular balcony of the hippie house.

Corman faced a hurdle when it came time to shoot the two symbolic black horses. There were not enough black horses in the AIP stable. "It just didn't seem right that this dark rider from the paranoid subconscious should be riding a bay," production assistant Sharon Compton recalled, "but a bay was what we had." According to Corman biographer Beverly Gray, it became Compton's duty to paint the brown horse black. Compton adds, "These artistic details seemed important at the time, but I realize now that it was [a] naive and unnecessary gesture. What can I say, our hearts were young and gay, and we were makers of film."

To achieve some of the film's more abstract light and color effects, Corman contacted Peter Gardiner of Charlatan Productions, "who had been responsible for many of the most noteworthy light shows to appear on TV in Los Angeles" (American Cinematographer). For a flat rate of $10,000, Gardiner agreed to provide the psychedelic color effects Corman wanted. He turned to Bob Beck's Background and Light Shows, which had become famous for the splashy color effects at some of the West Coast's more prominent rock venues.

The most memorable effects are those created by "liquid projectors," in which liquid dyes are compressed between two watch-crystal dishes, and light is shined through the crystals as they are manipulated (and the color blotches morph on-screen). Assistant cameraman Allen Daviau (later a d.p., whose credits include Empire of the Sun [1987]) recalled that "Bob used liquid light projectors. He used strobe lights. He used all kinds of devices for changing color gels in the middle of a shot." Beck also modified strobe lights so that their pulses would properly synchronize with the frame rate of the movie cameras.

The Bead Game sequence was shot in an actual L.A. club, with minor modification by the film crew. Assistant director Paul Rapp remembered shooting the Bead Game sequence, "I bought hundreds of boxes of amyl nitrate, which was then sold over the counter. I was working with dozens of extras in the scene and I needed to get their energy up to a pitch. They thought I was filming when I was only rehearsing. I wouldn't run any film through the camera and waste it on rehearsals. When I was ready to shoot, I got everybody higher and higher and brought out the poppers."

In the final shot of the film, Paul walks out onto his balcony, bathes himself in the sunlight, and (after an optical zoom) a black crack shatters the image, radiating from his head. This was another effort by AIP to give LSD use a negative spin. In his autobiography, AIP co-founder Samuel Z. Arkoff recalls, "Jim (with my approval) made the decision to put in a series of fast cuts at the end of the film, and then optically insert cracked glass over Peter's face, feeling it would leave the impression that Peter's life was still confused and shattered, and that the LSD trip didn't solve his personal problems. When Roger heard about the changes, he was not happy, feeling that the ending should leave open the question of whether Fonda had a good 'trip' or a bad one." It is said that Corman's resentment over the toning-down of The Trip was a central reason for his departure from AIP.

by Bret Wood

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The Trip (1967)

From the start, The Trip was intended as a vehicle for Peter Fonda. Screenwriter Nicholson had hoped to land the role of John, Paul's LSD "guide," even though he knew, in his own words, "that Roger always preferred Bruce." Indeed, Corman gave the role to Bruce Dern. Curiously, Dern (playing the LSD guru) was one of the few actors involved in the production who didn't experiment with LSD, being an avid long-distance runner.

According to Nicholson, "The first guy who read [the script] -- an actor friend of mine -- finished it, walked outside, and fell off my front porch."

The character of Paul Groves (Fonda), a director of TV commercials, is loosely based on Corman himself, "because I was sometimes accused of being a very commercial director," Corman explained.

The medieval hallucinations (including the obligatory dwarf) were shot in the Bronson Canyon area of L.A.'s Griffith Park. The oceanside trip scenes (and the scene of Paul shooting a commercial) were filmed in Big Sur, the location of Corman and crew's original experimentations with LSD. Corman hired Dennis Hopper to grab some surreal shots of Paul wandering across desert dunes. Hopper and Fonda shot these over the course of two days in Yuma, Arizona, and Big Dune, Nevada.

The scene in which Paul wanders into a middle-class suburban home during his trip was filmed at a house in Laurel Canyon owned by Harry Bernsen. Harry's daughter Caren plays the young girl. Her brother, who never appears on-screen, is actor Corbin Bernsen. During this scene, the images playing on the television have been awkwardly concealed by simulated static. Originally, Paul and Alexandra (Bernsen) are watching grisly news footage of the Vietnam War, which AIP insisted Corman remove from the film.

The band seen playing in the "Bead Game" nightclub is The International Submarine Band, "led by the late Graham Parsons just before he joined The Byrds," according to writer Lowell Goldman. "Corman thought they didn't sound 'acid' enough," so their performance was overdubbed by The American Music Band, led by guitarist Mike Bloomfield. Shortly after recording the score for The Trip, The American Music Band would change its name to Electric Flag.

The Trip was the first Roger Corman film to feature nudity.

The Trip features a number of Corman regulars in bit roles. Stalwart Dick Miller (A Bucket of Blood [1959]) appears briefly as a bartender at the Bead Game, where Luana Anders (The Pit and the Pendulum [1961]) works as a waitress. The woman in curlers whom Paul encounters in a laundromat is played by Barboura Morris, whose Corman appearances include The Wild Angels (1966) and The Wasp Woman (1959). Morris was the ex-wife of Monte Hellman, who had directed several films with Jack Nicholson, including Flight to Fury (1964), written by Nicholson.

The Trip was screened at the 1967 Cannes Film Festival, as part of the Directors Fortnight. It opened in New York on August 23, 1967, at the Rivoli Theater (Broadway and 49th Street) and the 72nd Street Playhouse (east of Second Avenue).

The budget for The Trip was $300,000. The Trip earned $4 million in film rentals, as of January, 1968. In time, the rental earnings peaked at $5.5 million, with gross box-office sales estimated at $10 million. "I think one of the reasons that the audience came in such large numbers was out of curiosity," Corman later opined, "They didn't really want to take LSD but the reviews and comments said that this came somewhat close to an LSD experience, so they could take it without taking it."

The Trip had a successful run in France, but was banned in the UK by the British Board of Film Classification. The BBFC upheld the ban for 36 years, finally giving the film an "18" certificate in 2003, stating, "The board concluded that its portrayal of the hallucinogenic experience was unlikely to convince a modern viewer and took account also of the film's depiction of the downside as well as the pleasure of drug use."

In February, 2007, Time Out London reported that Joe Dante was directing The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes, a dramatization of the making of The Trip. The film was budgeted at $7 million, and boasted cameo appearances by Corman veterans Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, and John Sayles. Apparently, the deal has fallen through, as there have been no further reports of its production.

by Bret Wood

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The Trip (1967)

"In trying to visualize a notion of what Peter Fonda goes through on an LSD trip, Roger Corman has simply resorted to a long succession of familiar cinematic images, accompanied by weird music and sounds...Is this a psychedelic experience? Is this what it's like to take a trip? If it is, then it's all a big put-on. Or is this simply making a show with adroitly staged fantasy episodes and good color photography effects? In my estimation, it is the latter. And I would warn you that all you are likely to take away from [The Trip] is a painful case of eye-strain and perhaps a detached retina."
-- Bosley Crowther, The New York Times

"As a far-out, free-floating LSD freakout, The Trip should provide enough psychedelic jolts, sexsational scenes and mind-blowing montages and optical effects to prove a box-office magnet for the youth market."
-- Variety

"The Trip amounts to very little more than an hour-and-a-half commercial for LSD...Neither Mr. Fonda nor Miss Strasberg is left with any place to go but 'up' after this movie. The subject matter of The Trip enables the director to make a totally incoherent movie with erratic, repetitious and fake-arty effects that simply nauseate, both intellectually and physically."
-- Judith Crist, The Today Show

"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 [1957], Lawrence of Arabia [1962], even The Wizard of Oz [1939]."
-- Time

"The Trip pulls no punches. This is a smash commercial picture on the national youth problem of taking psychedelic drugs."
-- Boxoffice

"With The Trip, Roger Corman has made his best picture to has its unusual and experimental aspects and is a quite remarkable venture of so totally an exploitation-minded firm as American International, under whose aegis Corman flourishes."
-- Hollis Alpert, The Saturday Review

"Whether or not [Corman] succeeded in [his] aim can only be attested to by those who are users of the chemical. However, judging the result from the purely cinematic standpoint, it can be said that The Trip is technically and visually one of the most spectacular pictures ever made."
-- American Cinematographer

"Roger Corman and Peter Fonda, trying to do for LSD what they did for motorcycles in The Wild Angels [1966]. It doesn't take, perhaps because a subject so passive doesn't lend itself to the action requirements of exploitation films. But there is a very funny scene in a laundromat with Fonda freaking out on a clothes dryer."
-- Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

"An earlier Corman picture, The Man with the X-Ray Eyes [1963], had uncannily predicted the rise and fall of a Timothy Leary-type hero, whose desire to see beyond human limits was punished by humiliation as a sideshow freak and by self-inflicted blindness. The Trip, a definitive commercial for acid scripted by Jack Nicholson, is in contrast boundlessly optimistic...Despite the hedonistic panache, its lack of a comeuppance means it now lacks credence (as it once lacked a censor's certificate). Rich pickings for the pathologist of '60s life-styles, but it took Coppola to work out that the best movies were about bad trips, not good ones."
TimeOut Film Guide

"The Trip has several good performances despite the dated nature of Jack Nicholson's rather good script. Everyone says 'groovy' at least 5 times each, which I must sadly report was perfectly accurate for the lingo of 1966/67. Peter Fonda isn't bad at all as the day-tripping advertising guy with a vague soul-sickness; this is before the drearily-affected persona that dominated his post-Easy Rider pictures. He's actually kind of square and has a friendly, innocent smile."
- Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant

Compiled by Bret Wood

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The Trip (1967)

"I'm Peter Fonda. We've just finished making a movie dealing with the most talked-about subject of the day: LSD. I honestly believe it will be today's most talked-about motion picture."
-- Theatrical trailer

"You are about to be involved in a most unusual motion picture experience... This picture represents a shocking commentary on a prevalent trend of our time and one that must be of great concern to all."
-- Foreword to The Trip

Paul: "There's only one man who can walk well on water."

Blonde: "Hi."
John: "Beautiful."
Paul: "How are you doing?"
Blonde: "Beautiful. Very groovy boots."
Paul: "Maybe I'll see you later."
Blonde: "Great. Yeah."

Paul (holding an orange): "That's the sun in my hands, man. It gives off an orange cloud of light that just flows right out of it."

Paul: "Is this -- is this really it? Is it really happening there? Look at those crosses on the mount!"
John: "See the real tall one? That's channel 13."
Paul: "Wowww."

Max: "I wish there was some hip way of telling you this, baby, but you're one whiff in part of an ever-expanding, loving, joyful, glorious, harmonious universe."

Max: "I don't want to bring you down but, like, let's try to sort the real from the trip."

Glenn: "Find what you were looking for? The insight?"
Paul: "Yeah. I think I -- like I love you."
Glenn: "And everybody else."
Paul: "Yeah, and everybody else."
Glenn: "It's easy now. Wait til tomorrow."
Paul: "Yeah, well, I'll think about that tomorrow."

"Listen to the Sound of Love... Feel Purple... Taste Green... Touch the Scream that crawls up the Wall."
-- Advertisement

"A Lovely Sort of Death... It will blow your mind... in Psychedelic COLOR."
-- Advertisement

Compiled by Bret Wood

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teaser The Trip (1967)

After making his only big studio picture, The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967), for 20th Century Fox, Roger Corman returned to work with his frequent collaborators, American International Pictures. The AIP/Corman axis had last produced The Wild Angels (1966), the tale of a motorcycle gang (led by Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra) who lived for nothing more than to "get loaded and... have a good time." A change of pace from his stock-in-trade of lush Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, The Wild Angels caught on with young American moviegoers and went on to gross $15 million from an initial investment of $350,000. In follow-up, Corman and AIP chose to make a film that foregrounded a plot point of the earlier film: recreational drug use - specifically lysergic acid diethylamide or LSD (a big hit with the Hells Angels bikers who had served as technical advisors on The Wild Angels. It fell to sometimes Corman actor Jack Nicholson to bang out a screenplay, based on his personal experiences with LSD, the dissolution of his first marriage, and his own Hollywood demons.

Nicholson wrote the protagonist of The Trip (1967) for his friend, Peter Fonda, who had also experimented with LSD in the company of The Beatles and whose hallucinogen-fueled ramblings ("I know what it's like to be dead!") wound up in the lyrics of John Lennon and Paul McCartney's song "She Said She Said." Without a major studio dictating who he could and could not cast, Corman cast the film with friends and familiar faces, among them Susan Strasberg, Bruce Dern, Dick Miller, Barboura Morris, and Dennis Hopper. Like Nicholson, Hopper's once-promising Hollywood career had stalled due to his own recreational drug use and a reputation for being a problematic actor. Knowing that Hopper had his own filmmaking ambitions, Corman allowed Hopper to direct Fonda in some second unit desert sequences - a dry run, as it happens, for the game-changing independent film the pair would make with seed money from Columbia Pictures: Easy Rider (1969).

Though the logline of The Trip is boilerplate for a standard cautionary tale, Corman's approach to the material was non-judgmental. Wanting to understand his subject from the inside out, the former Stanford engineering major even put himself under the influence of LSD while on a scouting expedition to the craggy coastline of Big Sur, California. In publicity for the finished film, Corman would report to the press that he partook of acid in the company of a doctor, in a strictly clinical setting, but in fact he spent nearly the entirety of his trip face down at the base of an old tree at Big Sur, hallucinating that he had conceived of a new art form in which the intentions of the artist could be grounded with wires connected between the artist's brain and Mother Earth. Though his experience was entirely pleasant, Corman did plumb his own Poe films for Gothic imagery to suggest that not descent into the maelstrom has a happy ending.

Though Corman left the fate of Fonda's character open ended in the final frames of The Trip, AIP founders James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff feared the film would meet with condemnation for its seeming advocacy of recreational drug use. With Corman off in Europe shooting a TV pilot, AIP tacked a disclaimer onto the start of The Trip and superimposed a cracked class optical over a concluding freeze frame of Fonda to suggest that the character's hallucinogenic explorations had done him harm. Corman was furious with the altering of his work (he would break with AIP for good over their meddling with his 1970 hippie satire Gas-s-s: Or It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It) but The Trip turned a considerable profit, earning back $6 million on what had been a meager budget of $100,000. AIP channeled many of the same elements and actors (Strasberg, Nicholson, Dern) into a likeminded follow-up, Psych-Out (1968), directed by Richard Rush. AIP also had first refusal on Easy Rider but Nicholson and Arkoff did not trust Hopper as a director; with Corman interested only in taking a producer's role, the project shifted elsewhere and Corman went on to helm the Depression era gangster saga Bloody Mama, his third-to-last movie before taking a nearly twenty year break from directing.

by Richard Harland Smith


How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime by Roger Corman, with Jim Jerome (Da Capo Press, 1998)
'Shooting My Way Out of Trouble': The Films of Roger Corman by Alan Frank (BT Batsford, Ltd., 1998)
Roger Corman: An Unauthorized Life by Beverly Gray (Thunder's Mouth Press, 2000)
Roger Corman Interviews, edited by Constantine Nasr (University Press of Mississippi, 2011)
Roger Corman: Metaphysics on a Shoestring by Alain Silver and James Ursini (Silman-James Press, 2006)
Flying Through Hollywood By the Seat of My Pants: By the Man Who Brought You Was a Teenage Werewolf and Muscle Beach Party by Sam Arkoff, with Richard Trubo (Birch Lane Press, 1992
Jack's Life: A Biography of Jack Nicholson by Patrick McGilligan (W. W. Norton & Company, 1996)

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