Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Great Acid Cinema 13: PSYCH-OUT (1968)

This non-Corman (better than THE TRIP!) 1968 AIP classic has awesome documentary footage of the Haight-Asbury scene while it was at its zenith, with shocked squares rubbernecking by inside tour buses like they're driving through a African safari preserve. As for the characters on the street and in the coffee houses, they're pretty damn authentic at least as (sometimes) written and clothed and (sometimes) acted; if my own memories of playing in psychedelic rock band are correct, which is doubtful, even if we jammed in the late 80s, we played this music, and worshipped the films and music of the Hashbury scene like it was our own bountiful bonkers Bethlehem (i.e. we were Deadheads). For me, more than anyone else in 'my tribe,' this movie captured our dynamics to a perfect tee, to the point it was almost scary.

There's the Dean Stockwell (top) pseudo-shaman (that was totally me), carrying STP-laced fruit punch around like its just another drink and arguing with the band's smarmy lead singer and guitarist, Jack Nicholson (that was Dave), while simultaneously play-stealing his girl (that was Elizabeth); and her and I becoming partners in crime, smoking Dave's weed and talking about how annoying he could be while rummaging his drawers in search of secret stashes  that's just for starters, I could go down matching the cast list with my photo album but you probably would just skip over it. (Or go here), but! Ask yourself why the similarity, only one reason - acid makes you tarot-myth tribal, it assigns you a role in your group - the clown, the king, the shaman/wizard, princess, Morganna, Lancelot, it's all there waiting to play out amongst your friends; it's in your DNA... the man, the system, authority can't burn that out of you, but you can't even reach it without a little boost from our machine elf friends behind the curtain, so trip them well!

Point is: PSYCH-OUT strikes a rare and right note of genuine people engaging in cautious lysergic idealism, like HAIR: the psychedelic love bead and budding branch pull focus magic of Lazlo Kovacs making deaf mute tourist Susan Strasberg into a love child overnight, and we're contact high and beside her all the way. But then the film also shows the dirty morning after, when one tin soldier rides away without doing his share of the dishes, and instead of trying to pick the lice off himself, just names them.

The sad part is that once post-Vietnam disillusionment with the system got rid of patriotism, countercultural "freedom" became the ad hoc refuge of a scoundrel, and then the CHUDS came--grabbing girls and dragging them into alleys yelling "gimme some a dat free love I done read about!"--and you may as well move to Los Angeles. At the end, when Stockwell is dying he says "I hope this next trip is a good one!" It was, man it was WOODSTOCK, And it wasn't man, it was GIMME SHELTER, and yet we rode on, man, until the times they are a changing back. Now take him away for re-grooving!

Lastly, the film is essential for truly nailing the psychedelic experience, which can be beautiful and creativity-fueling one day, and a skin-crawling literalized nightmare the next. It's very rare and precious to have such an even-keeled look at the psychedelic age, neither as blissful as Woodstock or as negative as Altamont. To me it sums itself up perfectly: the scene when a STP-addled Warren is found "freaking out in the gallery" and hallucinates all his friends are undead Vietnam vets. They advance towards him, trying to get him to cool it and put down the power saw. And it's not long before he's trying to cut off his own hand--because for the first time, maybe ever, he sees it as it truly is, a decaying, half-blown away hallucination.

It's funny because it's terrifying.

In short, this film is the shit - a personal favorite. Alas, the MGM DVD seems to missing a reel, though maybe i was, you know, out of it. I would love to do a 'head's cut' one day and fix up some of the hallucinations (to add a giant close-up of that burning tin of Susan Strasberg's stuff as a child, which her evil mom threw in the furnace --and which led to her psychological deafness -- a condition which it's also implied but not really that she can now hear again after this mind-shredding return to the ground zero of her individuating trauma. Or to have her look in the mirror and see her face melting to reveal her taunting evil mother, that kind of shit - would have been awesome. But what we got, it's still pretty fucking great. And no squares man, at least not outside the bus.

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