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Psychedelia in the Movies, Part 1

Psypress Cover 15-4_by_Reuben_Q_Online_grandeMy latest piece for the Psypress UK Journal – the first installment of a two-parter – explores the roots of psychedelic movies, their rise in the 1960s and the spread of their various influences thereafter, including psychedelia in comedy, sci-fi and horror, cartoons and reality benders. In particular ‘trip sequences’ in films such as The Trip, Easy Rider and Altered States are analysed at length, alongside other psychedelically-tinged scenes in films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Yellow Submarine.

Whilst verbal descriptions convey much, I felt it would be useful to back up the article with some clips of the actual scenes under discussion, so here is a selection of suitable elements to peruse in conjunction with the piece. They follow the same order as in the text. Psypress UK 2015 Vol IV also contains illuminating essays from Peter Sjostedt-H, Nathan Horowitz and Ido Hartogsohn. To purchase a copy please visit the Psypress Shop.


The Trip (1967). This trailer gives a good flavour of the kitschy pop art treatment of the subject back in its heyday, with much reliance on flicker and strobing effects. It will blow your mind!


Easy Rider (1969). The Mardi Gras cemetery acid trip borrows from the grammar of The Trip, but moves it into darker, edgier spaces with fast cutting and vertiginous camera moves conjuring an atmosphere of chaos.


Skidoo (1968). Comedian Jackie Gleeson features in this bonkers prison acid trip – complete with Groucho Marx as God! – which like much of The Trip has a charming clunky dated feel in the crudeness of its effects.


Altered States (1980). Ken Russell overdoses on a smorgasbord of weird imagery in this literally pyrotechnic and typically bombastic native shamanic trip in Mexico. Watch out for the snakes!


2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The climactic ‘Star Gate’ sequence of Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi masterpiece uses slit-scan photographic techniques, filters, negative-image and posterisation effects to produce some of the best psychedelic visuals in cinema, which still stand up well by today’s standards of CGI VFX.


Yellow Submarine (1968). Some classic psychedelic animation to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper acid number ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’. Lennon and McCartney repeatedly denied the LSD connection, but the song’s lyrics and the film’s visuals speak for themselves.


Naked Lunch (1991). A compilation of weird scenes, involving bug powder as a drug, ‘talking asshole’ cockroaches, the hideous Mugwump and their typewriter equivalents, plus ‘telepathic talking’ in Interzone. ‘Exterminate all rational thought,’ as the tag line goes.


Part 2 of Psychedelia in the Movies will be in the next Psypress Journal in October 2015. It will look at Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, A Scanner Darkly, Enter the Void, Shrooms and A Field in England, together with the treatment of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in cinema and the mind-expanding propensities of 3-D.

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  1. October 12, 2015 at 3:41 pm

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