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Psychedelia in the Movies, Part 2

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This article originally appeared in the Psychedelic Press UK Journal 2015 Volume 5. Part 1 was republished on Reality Sandwich on 29/10/15. Read Part 1 here.

Once the late ’60s boom in acid culture and acid cinema had dissipated, the psychedelic movie became another component of the fringe and the experimental, something to recur and be revived at intervals, a pattern that continues into the present. As we saw in ‘Part 1’, a principal avenue of this tendency involved name directors, associated with the weird and offbeat, taking on solid psychedelic literary properties – such as Ken Russell, the work of John C. Lily and Altered States; and David Cronenberg, the work of William Burroughs and Naked Lunch. The next big milestone in psychedelic cinema occurred in just the same fashion, with Terry Gilliam, Hunter S. Thompson and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998).

With his track record in mind-bending fantasies such as Time Bandits (1981) and Brazil (1985), Terry Gilliam would seem the ideal director to tackle Thompson’s tale of madcap psychedelic debauchery, where the ‘effects’ are already ‘scripted’, rendered in electrifyingly graphic prose. But Gilliam came into the difficult pre-production process late, having to produce a new script in a short time, and the filming itself proved as chaotic as the movie’s contents. The end result achieved a disappointing box office performance and very mixed reviews, with many critics understandably attributing the characters’ qualities of waywardness and incoherence to the movie plot itself.

Whilst falling short of being a totally satisfying adaptation of the book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is nevertheless a very worthy effort in the reification of psychedelic effects and head spaces for the screen. Gilliam wanted the film to feel like a trip from beginning to end, and with cinematographer Nicola Pecorini, he designed a catalogue of techniques to match the qualities of each of the many drugs that are consumed, such as melting colours and flare effects for mescaline, and wide angles and morphing for LSD. Voice-over narration from Johnny Depp’s Raoul Duke provides much-needed structure and grounding, bringing us back to the novel and Thompson’s original vision as a bulwark against drug chaos swamping everything.

When it comes to the hotel lobby ‘Sunshine’ acid trip – the most hallucinatory dramatic sequence – the effects are pleasingly on target and devoid of meretricious camera and editing trickery. The pattern in the carpet swirls, grows extensions and creeps menacingly over the furniture. Faces distort hideously and the barroom clientele transmogrify into giant leering lizards, realised through animatronics and motion control. As well as the visuals, what’s particularly good is the creation of the sense that on a trip there is something else going on beneath the surface of events, where pockets of free-floating paranoia knit themselves into an all-pervasive conspiracy meta-narrative in the characters’ minds. Everybody they encounter, from journalistic colleagues to hotel staff, has a hidden agenda and may be an ‘agent’ for somebody or some organisation.

As one trip follows another and real psychedelia is superimposed on the garish neon-lit ersatz psychedelia of Las Vegas, it all threatens to become too much. Hallucinatory weirdness ramps up with an adrenochrome overdose, and attendant substance abuse, such as the ether episode, takes the movie into the realms of pure incapacitating drug excess – addled rather than altered states – and in this it shares elements with the recent Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Trainspotting (1996) and Drugstore Cowboy (1989). For the drug-film aficionado, this overstuffing of the suitcase with delirium is perhaps fine, but the general filmgoer can become exasperated; and Gilliam’s vision of a film trip ‘from beginning to end’ suffers to a degree from the law of diminishing returns, and the other elements in the book, such as the biting satire and grotesque characterisation of Americana, are a touch sidelined.

The psychedelic movie therefore is subject to the limiting factor that an over excess of drug focus within the narrative can weigh it down, and it must have strength and appeal in other areas to be successful as a film per se. An innovative approach is important too, as the simple recycling of techniques used from the ’60s onwards will not work with sophisticated newer generations of filmgoers. Fear and Loathing went some way towards forging a new ‘realism’ in depicting major psychedelic states, but heading off in a completely different direction, Richard Linklater was the next notable director to break new ground in screen psychedelia, with his adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s dystopian science fiction novel A Scanner Darkly (2006).

Though a genre piece, the novel draws heavily on Dick’s own experiences of drug excess in the early ’70s, mixing in his visionary and perhaps borderline psychotic episodes, and transmuting the action to an Orwellian near future police-state California, where high-tech surveillance and counter espionage are the main weapons in the war on drugs. Here the paranoia that Raoul Duke and his attorney undergo in Fear and Loathing has been extrapolated into a whole network of cutthroat undercover double agents, and in the case of protagonist Bob Arctor, the doubling occurs within the hemispheres of his own brain. Moreover Dick composited together the attributes of various real drugs to form the sci-fi ‘Substance D’, which is both addictive and powerfully hallucinogenic, dominating the lives of around a fifth of the population.

By placing his experiences in a sci-fi milieu, Dick gave himself more freedom and latitude to creatively explore and invent; and in the film version Linklater adds another intriguing layer which opens up those same propensities still further. He shot the movie digitally as live action, but then transformed it into a cartoon by the process of interpolated rotoscoping, where animation is placed onto the footage frame by frame. It’s an intriguing, seductive technique that well compliments the schizoid nature of the narrative. Sometimes the work is very cartoonish, and sometimes almost on the point of turning back into real life, with a wide spread of nuances in between. So our relationship to the material is in a constant state of flux as the pitch of its reality rises and falls.

And when it comes to showing hallucinatory effects, the cartoon layer hovering over live action is particularly appropriate. Substance D induces something like a hybrid of an acid trip and amphetamine psychosis, so one user experiences strange aphids crawling in his hair, all over his body and in his dog’s coat. Later he takes an overdose which brings on a screaming bummer, where a being from the next world, with a head covered in eyes, reads out a never-ending list of his sins as he lays helplessly pinned to his bed. The feeling of alterity of the overlaid animation accurately invokes a trippy sensation, more so in fact than with regular visual effects, so it is singularly successful.

That same alterity leaks out into the world at large, blurring boundaries between subjective and objective. In his agent persona, Bob Arctor is called ‘Fred’, and like other agents he wears a ‘scramble suit’ to conceal his true identity. These suits are top-to-toe overalls that flicker with an ever-metamorphosing assemblage of different components of appearances, like berserk identikit generators, and so take the trippiness further. As the counter-espionage plot convolutions increase and Arctor becomes critically split between his two personae, the whole movie develops the brain-hurting feel of a bad trip – which is clearly the intention, a not dissimilar one to Terry Gilliam’s in Fear and Loathing.

Richard Linklater is an experimental filmmaker in the best sense, in that he’s always trying out new and innovative approaches, but each of his films still remains a rounded whole. A Scanner Darkly is a remarkable achievement, introducing new levels of visual sophistication to psychedelic cinema; but yet again it wasn’t a good box office performer, and whilst critical reception was largely positive, the old comments about drug films being a specialist taste, uninvolving to the uninitiated, inevitably recurred. In the same way as the substances themselves carry a transgressive element, shunning the mainstream, movies about psychedelia will perhaps always remain too outré for most tastes.

The next important psychedelic movie to consider ramifies all the aforementioned points even more so. Yet more radically experimental and ground-breakingly innovative, it took trip cinema into the new tryptamine-entheogenic age, and whilst hugely successful in its own rarefied terms, it was a complete commercial flop and divided critical opinion to the extremes. Whether a muddle or a masterpiece, no one can deny that Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void (2009) is utterly extraordinary.

In a five-star review, Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw had this to say: ‘…its sheer deranged brilliance is magnificent. This is a grandiose hallucinatory journey into, and out of, hell: drugged, neon-lit and with a fully realised nightmare-porn aesthetic that has to be seen to be believed. Love him or loathe him – and I’ve done both in my time – Gaspar Noé is one of the very few directors who is actually trying to do something new with the medium, battling at the boundaries of the possible.’

From the very beginning it’s clear that Enter the Void is unlike any other movie, eschewing standard conventions in favour of a distinct and uncompromising psychedelic auteur vision. Everything is seen from the point of view of protagonist Oscar, a small-time drug dealer inhabiting Tokyo’s neon nightscapes, so the camera wanders erratically, giving us the sense of being in Oscar’s head. One of the first things he does is to smoke a pipe of DMT, and we go up with Oscar into a world of unfolding fractal crystalline geometries, his point of view continually on the move, reaching out into an interstellar space of colourful ever-metamorphosing amoeboid forms that feel imbued with multilevel non-verbal significance. Very early in the film, this sequence sets the seal on its specialness.

When alive we only see Oscar when he looks in the mirror, and after some signposting references to The Tibetan Book of the Dead, he is fatally shot and leaves his body. At this point the whole movie turns into a kind of trip as we follow Oscar’s ‘spirit’ on an aerial tour of the Tokyo underworld, passing through any barrier at will. He visits his sister, working as a pole dancer and having sex with her boss; then in flashback sequences details emerge of the two siblings’ traumatic past history. Progressively Oscar’s spirit journey becomes more and more trippy, involving dreamlike transitions, fisheye perspectives, vertiginous dives through any number of portals and bodily orifices from the numinous to the gynaecological, and traverses along tunnels of bright flickering light, popping out wormhole-like into the next space. Ultimately he visits the point of conception, at sperm-and-egg scale, and perhaps reincarnation; but nothing is certain and Oscar’s journey may have been a true out-of-body experience or a Pincher Martin-style point-of-death hallucination. Noé intentionally leaves it ambiguous.

Any psychedelic initiate watching the movie will be left in no doubt that Noé knows every twist and corner in the continuum, and there is not a shred of vicariousness in his masterful depictions. He took ayahuasca before the filming and described it as follows: ‘You forget that you have a human form and that you’re on a planet. It’s a really hardcore experience that I absolutely do not regret, as when I went there I was already thinking about this project, and I was thinking about images. It was almost like professional research.’

Knowing is one thing, but reproducing is another and the use of real locations, plus sets, models and CGI to weave a seamless passage is peerless. The visual effects, by the BUF Company, are astounding in their precision, and with the DMT episodes the comparison to the ‘Star Gate’ sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey is unavoidable, and indeed it was a major formative influence. Certainly from the initiates’ point of view, Enter the Void succeeds in almost every way, taking the tropes of the classic ’60s trip movie – including copious nudity and sex! – and re-rendering them utterly cutting edge for a new era. It is undoubtedly the finest psychedelic film of the twenty-first century and a must see.

There are many approaches to placing psychedelic experience within a movie, and with the long-standing relationship between psychedelia and the horror-and-weirdness part of the movie spectrum, it was likely that sooner or later someone would make an all-out psychedelic horror flick. That happened with Shrooms (2007), which takes a standard issue slasher movie format with Blair Witch overtones and folds mushroom tripping into the rationale. A collective groan from the psychedelic community is almost audible at the recitation of this brief outline, and it can only get louder as more is revealed!

When a bunch of American young folk go on a shrooming excursion in spooky Irish woods, Tara unwittingly ingests a black-nippled ‘death cap’ – a species of psilocybe previously unknown to mycologists – and after suffering an epileptic bum trip she’s left with precognitive powers. Late that night Jake tells a scary story about a local homicidal tripping monk and some attacks on abused kids from a home. The scene is set for a run of serial deaths, spaced out on mushrooms, and of course nobody’s sure what’s real and what’s a hallucination. The trip sequences themselves employ the usual distortion, fast cutting and eerie music, and there is one banally comic episode involving a talking cow. Overall Shrooms is unmemorable and derivative, and the Refer Madness-style twist ending very much underscores the ‘set and setting’ maxim. Kids, mix shrooms and bad horror movie plotting at your peril!

One scene in Shrooms involves the ingestion of mushrooms at ground level, as though the user were an animal chewing the cud. And a similar prone-position mushroom munch occurs in A Field in England (2013), an edgy British movie from acclaimed director Ben Wheatley, which is set in the English Civil War and presented in high contrast black and white, lending it the quality of a historical etching in motion. The psychedelic episode – based around the myth of fairy mushroom rings – comes near the film’s climax, after a ponderous build-up involving a raggle-taggle band of deserters who fall under the dominance of an evil necromancer and are made to assist him in a search for buried treasure. The action is earthy and grisly, with many scenes of sadism, violence and toilet humour; it has the quality of a Sam Peckinpah western, in particular with regard to the ‘psychedelic carnage’ of Peckinpah’s fast-cutting montage and slo-mo gunfight trauma methods. So it somehow works well to induct actual psychedelia into such an assemblage, taking it to a delirious frenzied pitch of stroboscopic trip mimicry that is strangely all the more effective for being in monochrome rather than colour.

With a low budget film, expensive fancy visual effects are likely to be eschewed in favour of cheap cutting room manipulation, and here Wheatley is going right back to the grammar and methods of The Trip, which he admits was an influence. As a hands-on director/editor, he brings a lot of cleverness and sophistication to the editing process, using disorientating jump cutting and fast jerky cross cutting of parallel scenes to create sensory overload. The careful choice and repetition of images, particularly standing figures and faces, lends a fractal pattering quality, and this is further enhanced by extensive use of the Final Cut Pro mirror effect, where the two halves of a divided screen reflect one another with often hypnotic symmetry. It is a cinematic stylisation of tripping rather than an attempt at faithful reproduction, but is startlingly successful nonetheless, and we must applaud Wheatley for his experimental verve.

The ‘stoner movie’ tradition in psychedelic filmmaking was mentioned in ‘Part 1’, and a recent magnificent example is Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice (2014), adapted from the Thomas Pynchon novel. An early ’70s California milieu of bombed-out hippies and equally weird straights is superbly recreated, the chief protagonists being the high-as-a-kite, mutton-chop-whiskered private eye ‘Doc’ Sportello, and his nemesis the manic, flat-top-haired cop ‘Bigfoot’ Bjornsen – played by Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin respectively. Imagine the most abstruse Raymond Chandler noir plot transported into psychedelialand and further convoluted in a perpetual fug of hash smoke, and you have the flavour of Inherent Vice. That borderline hallucinatory feel of stoner perception runs throughout, and though at times the story is difficult to follow, the film is a huge lot of fun!

As we saw in ‘Part 1’ with 2001, Fantasia, A Matter of Life and Death, Mulholland Drive and others, there are many movies that possess a psychedelic aesthetic or trippy ambience but have only minimal or no drug references, and this is often the route whereby a more anodyne version of psychedelia is transported into the mainstream. The ’80s onwards saw the rise of the cyberpunk blockbuster, where altered states come packaged within computer-induced virtuality rather than via chemicals. Examples include Tron (1982), Total Recall (1990), The Lawnmower Man (1992), eXistenZ (1999) and most notably The Matrix Trilogy (1999-2003).

A more recent sci-fi mega-budget extravaganza, Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010), carries this torch onwards, with several exceedingly trippy themes woven into its fabric. Rather than drugs or cyberspace, Nolan uses a shared lucid dreaming domain as his medium of alterity, and features a group of agents on a mission to implant an idea within the subconscious of a target. This rationale throws up many opportunities for ambivalent dream-or-reality scenarios, and also for creating a range of depths and intensities of dream-space itself. Within each of the various levels of dream immersion, time moves at different rates, slowing geometrically the deeper you go – a very trippy idea! – and also the deeper you go, the more potentially disorientated you become and the harder it is to get back – and finally are you ever sure you’ve really come back? Although Nolan’s imagery is rather concrete and hard edged in its surrealness, Inception remains a mainstream trip well worth the taking.

And in the same period, trippiness conquered the mainstream in a big way with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (2010), complete with tell-tale super-saturated colours, Garden of Earthly Delights production design and a superlatively whacked-out performance from Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter. With this version of the Alice story, psychedelic cinema came full circle, referencing Lewis Carroll’s seminal work of fairytale trip literature and redefining it using the biggest cinematic innovation or fad of the current decade: state-of-the-art RealD 3D. So much of the whole portal-to-otherness brand of sci-fi and fantasy owes a debt to Alice’s Adventures, and it seems only fitting that it should get such a hi-tech reboot. Alice’s handprints can be found all over the cyberpunk genre; for example in The Matrix, Morpheus’ famous lines, spoken to Neo, reference that source and also return the issue of alterity back to chemicals:

‘This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.’

Before looking in detail at Burton’s version, it is worth considering the history of Alice adaptations in film, which is considerable and contains earlier examples of overt psychedelia. The IMDB lists no fewer than eighty-four instances of the Alice character appearing in a film or TV adaptation, and that is not an exhaustive list. In addition to the well known examples, such as the Paramount 1933 all-star version, the 1951 Disney cartoon and the 1972 British musical, there is a multitude of edgier takes, many of them shorts or works using elements of the story in other forms. The first ever adaptation, from 1903, with its actor-in-costume White Rabbit and special effects superimpositions of Alice changing size, has a classic otherworldly feel and sets an early benchmark.

Coming forward into the psychedelic era, Alice in Acidland (1969) is a risible cautionary tale-cum-sexploitation piece that resembles The Trip in its acid scenes, with strobe lighting over superimposed naked bodies, silly pseudo-mystical monologues and a cranky jazz and rock soundtrack. It has almost nothing to do with the original story, but does make the link between Alice’s journey and tripping and also brings sex into the equation, which several other derived works also do, such as the 1976 musical porn version. Sexual elements and wildly inventive psychedelia appear in the lesser-known animation short Malice in Wonderland (1982), where fluid constantly metamorphosing forms recreate the Alice story as Escher-on-acid in Yellow Submarine colours, with dubious usage of Alice’s genitalia, but very authentically trippy overall.

Other marginally psychedelic Alice-derived films include Claude Chabrol’s Alice ou la dernière fugue (1977), a reality-bender where an adult Alice enters a claustrophobic parallel-dimension world; Alicja (1982), a crazy musical fantasy where Alice falls in love with ‘Rabbit’, a jogger; and another Malice in Wonderland (2009), a modern British grungy take, where Alice is taken on a tour of the low-life underworld by a cab driver named ‘Whitey’. Another very worthy surreal re-imagining is Dreamchild (1985), written by Dennis Potter and containing his usual off-kilter fantasy tropes. An aged Alice looks backs on her childhood relationship with Carroll and is troubled by its possible sexual dimension; in her reveries she travels back to childhood, and also hallucinates Carroll and characters such as the Mad Hatter, the March Hare and the Dormouse, which are realised as somewhat malformed puppets by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. In this way she finds reconciliation and closure for her issues and the film ends on a high note.

But when it comes to Alice and pure weirdness, by far the finest example is the ingenious mix of live action and stop-motion animation in Jan Švankmajer’s Něco z Alenky (Alice) (1988). Legendary animator Švankmajer was a member of the Czech Surrealism movement when it was banned under Soviet rule, and his work consistently applies dream logic to the chaotic reordering of elements in stop-motion, allowing free-association to dictate creative decisions. This is much the way entopic pattering works in the tripped imagination, and his work has an inherent fractally psychedelic quality.

His version of Alice places a real-life girl within a bizarre stop-motion reality, where antique curios such as stuffed animals, skeletons, mathematical instruments, false teeth and eyeballs come alive and amalgamate into sometimes nightmarish puppet creatures, interacting with the girl during her adventures. This juxtaposition of a real subject and her synthesised environment is immediately suggestive of dream, fugue or hallucination, and those propensities are played on endlessly. Alice undergoes many eat me/drink me size changes, and in ‘small’ mode she becomes a doll, but the human sentience carries over. In one very freaky size expansion Alice becomes trapped within a life-size doll carapace and has to break out.

As regards the other characters, the stuffed White Rabbit keeps himself replenished with sawdust; the Caterpillar is a snaking sock with dentures for a mouth; the Mad Hatter is a traditional Czech puppet; and the King and Queen are cut-out playing cards. These oddball eclectic methods provide structurally trippiness, and the wacky hybrid world they engender has a surreal immediacy and verisimilitude that conventional matting of real-life and animation sometimes lacks. Švankmajer’s Alice is utterly absorbing, enchanting and unique – and immensely psychedelic!

And the phrase ‘immensely psychedelic’ also applies to Tim Burton’s take, though the two couldn’t be more different production-wise, the former personal, intimate and on the scale of a cottage industry, and the latter on Hollywood, Disney scale, with one of the most extensive and sophisticated visual effects processes ever applied to a movie. The majority of Burton’s Alice was shot with the actors against green screen in virtual sets, and their worlds created through CGI animation. Manipulations of the characters themselves – such as the Red Queen having a head of double size and an hour glass waist – were achieved through so-called digital shape-shifting, and such techniques were applied to stitch all the disparate parts into a whole, with stereoscopic 3D thrown into the mix. The great challenge on the effects front was to make the final composite Wonderland coherent and believable, and fortunately it worked exceedingly well.

The story is an expansion of the original with elements and characters from Through the Looking-Glass thrown in, and the whole given a more epic scale with touches of Lord of the Rings medievalism. But the entire look and feel is essentially psychedelic, though no one involved with the production uses that word in any promotional context that I could discover; ‘dreamlike’ is the favoured adjective, so this Alice remains one of those ‘nudge wink’ movies like the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, discussed in ‘Part 1’.

But psychedelic it is, from the swirling forest mists and giant glowing mushrooms in acid hues, through to the bright primary coloured gothic castles, eidetic post-apocalyptic landscapes, pretty pyrotechnic firestorms, luminous sapphire nights, glistening magenta lakes and creepy severed-head stepping stones. Then there’s the tumbling, evanescing Cheshire Cat, the jive-talking accent-alternating Mad Hatter with his electric orange hair and outsized emerald eyes, and the awesome Jabberwocky with its purple Van de Graaff generator breath. Those same qualities are found in the overall colour palette, in particular with the overwhelming redness of the Red Queen’s court and militia contrasting with the pearly quality, edged in pastel blues and pinks, of the White Queen’s abode; and the clash of the two in the chessboard battle near the movie’s end. The legendary critic Roger Ebert dubbed the whole thing ‘an adult hallucination’ and he’s spot on.

What makes it even more hallucinatory is the 3D effect on top of that design scheme, the final tweak that pulls us right through the doors. The very act of putting on special glasses in order to perceive things differently is like dropping a tab, and then in this altered world we get the first buzz – the z-axis layering: what is normally flat with conjectured space is now coming out at us! In Alice this works especially well, as the elements themselves are not only layered on a scale of real to unreal – a flesh-and-blood Alice, Hatter, White Queen, etc., partially CG Knave of Hearts, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and fully animated White Rabbit, Blue Caterpillar etc. – they are also layered in space and so co-exist much more believably. In fact the 3D effect creates a synergy that gives rise to an entirely new whole: an alloy of the real and imaginary that lives independently on its own terms…how psychedelic is that?

Much of the psychedelic underpinning of Burton’s Alice is also present in that other blockbuster 3D movie of the same period, Avatar (2009). Director James Cameron constructed the film primarily as a showcase for state-of-the-art 3D technology taken to its ultimate extremes in order to overcome audiences with the ‘wow’ factor. The storytelling, therefore, has a secondary role and has been criticised for being generic and derivative, which it is. Nevertheless, the kind of story Cameron came up with – an imperialistic group of Earthlings plundering an unspoilt Arcadian planet where the natives live by shamanic lore – has the aura of a sci-fi psychedelic myth, and when the hero Jake makes the transition into the native world by becoming one of them and seeing everything anew, that parallel is further affirmed, as has been noted by writers such as Erik Davis and Ido Hartogsohn.

Moreover, the native world is styled like a 1970s Roger Dean album cover, with its overly florid colour scheme and impossibly fantastic landscapes; but of course this, like the storyline, provide solid psychedelic foundations for the real point of Avatar, which is the trippy experience of the 3D itself, the cinematic equivalent of a fairground ride. In its grip, colours, surfaces and textures all come alive in an entrancing, convulsively heightened way that is perpetually hypnotic. Faces are superhumanly expressive. Scenes of love and death are more touching. Progressively we are taken on a mind-expanding journey where events of more and more greatly exciting spectacle unfold till we’re gasping with wonderment. In the airborne sequences, the geometry of the aerobatics becomes as much of an entertainment factor as who does what to whom, and like in a video game, character and plot take a subservient position to the interactive buzz. At the end of it all, we’re left with that same feeling of delight that, say, a Ray Harryhausen film produced in the 1960s.

James Cameron was hugely successful with Avatar, grossing 2.7 billion dollars – still the highest all-time total for any film – and Tim Burton’s Alice also performed outstandingly, raking in over a billion. So one might say that the mega-budget 3D subliminally psychedelic movie is a genre of great commercial boon, and there ought to be more. But that peak was over five years ago now, and since then 3D films have become much more run-of-the-mill and nothing has appeared to compare with that illustrious duo psychedelia-wise.

Perhaps what’s needed now is for this kind of effects-heavy trippy cinema to complete another circle and employ all this marvellous new digital technology, but go back to the ’60s golden age and be about the drugs again! Enter the Void and A Field in England were steps in the right direction, but imagine an acid sequence such as appears in Easy Rider or Fear and Loathing rendered using today’s 3D and CGI? Well, returning to my film student impossible dreams of turning my high-octane Operation Julie acid trips into a movie, as written about in my memoir The Mad Artist, they might now just be feasible. So if James Cameron, Tim Burton, Christopher Nolan, Richard Linklater, Ben Wheatley or whoever is reading this, please don’t hesitate to put your people in touch with my people.


Bradshaw, Peter. ‘Enter the Void Review’. The Guardian. September 2010.

Davis, Erik. ‘Aya Avatar’. Erik Davis. January 2010.

Ebert, Roger. ‘Alice in Wonderland Review’. Roger March 2010.

Hart, Hugh. ‘Alice’s Visual Challenge: Make You Believe “World Of Insanity”’. March 2010. Wired.

Hartogsohn, Ido. ‘Avatar: The Psychedelic Worldview and the 3D Experience’. Reality Sandwich. January 2010.

Keen, Roger. ‘3D – A Vicariously Trippy Experience’. Musings of the Mad Artist. May 2010.

Keen, Roger. ‘Inception Cinema Review’. The Digital Fix. July 2010.

Keen, Roger. The Mad Artist: Psychonautic Adventures in the 1970s. London: Createspace, 2010.

Keen, Roger. ‘A New Decade, A New Dimension’. The Digital Fix. April 2010.

Keen, Roger. ‘A Scanner Darkly Cinema Review’. The Digital Fix. August 2006.

Lambie, Ryan. ‘Gaspar Noé Interview’. Den of Geek. September 2010.

Pizzello, Stephen. ‘Gonzo Filmmaking’. May 1998. American Cinematographer. pp. 30–41.

 Wikipedia. ‘List of films featuring hallucinogens’ (and link pages).

Weird Retro. ‘Top Ten Weird Alice In Wonderland Movies’.

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