Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Great Acid Movies - Intro / Psych-Out (1968)

Hard to believe I've waited this long to get to this topic. I admit I've been holding off. I have a responsibility to the kids, after all, but with responsibility comes the need to do what you think is right. In the name of Saint Hendrix, Tim, Terence, Ram, Aldous and lately Daniel, allow me to announce: the emperor has no clothes. And let me add that for me it's been a long time spent watching naked emperors strutting too and fro in little circles... look here, there an emperor goes now! It ran under the couch, didn't you see? You think I'm crazy? Would a crazy person do this?

At least I can look back and remember the days-- or maybe I'm just making all this up to sound "cool", and if so, let this be a catch-all disclaimer:
You are about to be involved in
a most unusual experience.
It deals fictionally with the
hallucinogenic drug, LSD.
Today, the extensive use in
black market production of this...
and other such "mind-bending" chemicals...
is of great concern to
medical and civil authorities.
The illegal manufacture and distribution
of these drugs...
is dangerous and
can have fatal consequences.
Many have been hospitalized as a result.
This picture represents
a shocking commentary...
on a prevalent trend of our time...
(Modified disclaimer for Corman's The Trip, 1967, added without his consent by squirrely producers)(1)

And now, a small word about set and setting:

Under proper supervision a psychedelic experience can be beautiful and transformative. But if you don't observe set and setting, and take these substances at five in the morning by yourself after a coke binge or or around scroungy coke heads, and you're already drunk and wired, then you are not observing set and setting, and if you later cry and whine that you wound up in the hospital, don't blame your dealer or the drugs. It's like trying to surf off your roof and when you break your leg you sue the surfboard company and say "surfing should be illegal!" Dude! You're supposed to surf in the ocean, not off the roof!

Yet America can only view drugs as "dumb fun" and not as a sport like the sweet science of surfing. They say we are the emperors with no clothes, that it's all a plastic fantastic balderdash finish line snorting duck in the grass. It was you guys that was the emperor with no clothes, or maybe it was me, man... I confess, all this time, I was the emperor with no clothes! Thus ends my set and setting rap. Oh yeah, always ask your dealer for dosage recommendations based on your weight and past history, because your mileage is guaranteed to vary: decide on an amount and stick with it. Don't mix with SSRIs. If you don't follow these rules, well, that's when people show up at the hospital waiting room, begging for thorazine while shimmering spider worms spiral out of the nurse's forehead. Right? You saw it, too.

GREAT ACID MOVIES #3: 
PSYCH-OUT (1968)

There's awesome doc footage of the Haight-Asbury scene while it was at its zenith, with shocked squares rubbernecking by like a parade in reverse. As for the characters, they're pretty damn authentic, if my own memories of playing in psychedelic rock band are correct, which is doubtful. There's the Dean Stockwell 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, while simultaneously stealing his girl--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 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 tip them well!

Point is the movie strikes a rare and right note of genuine people engaging in cautious lysergic idealism, like HAIR: the psychedelic love beads and Lazlo Kovacs photography make 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!

Once Vietnam got rid of patriotism, countercultural "freedom" became the ad hoc refuge of a scoundrel, and then the CHUDS came, 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!

WHAT IT GETS WRONG:
1) A whole reel of this film seems to be missing in the MGM DVD (and it was there in the old HBO VHS, so WTF, man?) It's a great reel too: just a quiet acid-soaked orgy at home with the band and their birds and friends in their big, trashed Victorian house and Kovacs does a lot of pull-focus stuff through the beads at necking couples and gestures of love and openness.
2) Stockwell loses authenticity thanks to his Native American headband/long black hair combo wig (no doubt stolen from a nearby western). Nicholson also has fake hair, a rather lousy pony tail.


PEAK: 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! It's funny because it's true.

In short, this film is the shit - a personal favorite. A must-own. If you want to get a start in the LSD cinema canon, get the MGM double dose of PSYCH-OUT and THE TRIP. It's in the "essentials" widget at right!

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