Best Films to Watch While Tripping

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, May 4, 2020 04:21pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi

At Amoeba Music, one of my main jobs is working in the DVD room. Customers frequently ask me, “What’s a good movie to watch while tripping?” These are the movies I recommend:

Yellow SubmarineThe Beatles, Yellow Submarine:
When I was in first grade, my teacher took our class to see Yellow Submarine in the theater. It may have been the single most psychedelic moment of my life, even though it was many years before I tasted my first drug. My mind was completely blown. I don’t even remember the teacher’s name, but they were one of the most influential people in my life just by taking us to that movie. The experience created an insatiable love for all forms of psychedelic music and art that has stuck with me to this day. It started the journey that led to me writing this column. This film is a one of a kind masterpiece largely created by director George Dunning and art director Heinz Edelmann. They combined the talents of truly gifted artists and animators to create one of the best animated movies ever made. It tells the story of how The Beatles free the underwater country of Pepperland from the evil tyranny of the Blue Meanies. This may be the basic plot but the movie is essentially a series of mind blowing visually stunning set pieces set to The Beatles music. This film was a game changer that shifted the entire evolution of animation. The movie is just as amazing today as it was when it was released. From its melting smearing colors to its surreal underwater monsters, this film may be one of the purest psychedelic experiences ever created.

Fantastic PlanetFantastic Planet:
When customers ask, “What’s a good movie to watch while tripping?” this is usually the first thing I hand them. This movie makes you feel like you’re tripping even if you watch it sober. It completely overwhelms your visual cortex. This 1973 masterpiece of animation was produced in France and Czechoslovakia by amazingly talented artists. It tells the story of two humanoid alien races who battle for dominance of a distant world named Ygam. The story is good but the real star of the movie is the fantastic planet itself which is a breathtaking place of strangeness and sublime beauty. It is one of the most stunning creations in the history of cinema. The images in this film are so dense you will need to watch it three or four times just to soak them all up. The Criterion Collection recently released a remastered version of this that reveals details and nuances in the animators’ drawings that were never discernible before. It’s a movie that will blow your mind every time you watch it whether you’re stone cold sober or high as a kite.

The Holy Mountain:
The Holy MountainAlejandro Jodorowsky has the weirdest body of work in movie history and this is his weirdest movie ofall. In fact, it may be the most bat shit crazy film ever made. It starts with a strange occult ritual that is a visual tour de force, and then it just keeps hitting you with one increasingly bizarre surrealist set piece after another, each more outrageous than the one before. The movie tells the story of a messianic spiritual seeker who is in a homosexual relationship with an armless legless street beggar. He eventually crosses paths with a holy man who becomes his guru and teaches him the occult path. What ensues is some of the most incredible scenes of ultimate mind fuckery in the history of cinema. This film is a jaw dropping masterpiece of surrealist overkill and probably the best movie Jodorowsky made. There is no other movie like this. It is utterly unique in its personal vision. Watching it may scar you forever but you’ll definitely never forget it. If you watch it on psychedelics you may have to watch it again sober just to figure out which parts of the experience you hallucinated and which parts you actually saw in the film. All Jodorowsky’s other films are totally trippy as well, with El Topo and Santa Sangre being two especially hallucinogenic standouts.

The Trip, Roger CormanThe Trip:
This Roger Corman B-movie cult classic is one of the most accurate cinematic portrayals of what it is like to drop acid. Bruce Dern doses Peter Fonda and the rest of the movie is about what happens next. It’s a long, weird night. From the tracers to the smearing colors, the visuals are spot on and, if you’re watching it on acid, the hallucinations will almost perfectly match what you’re actually seeing in the room. Both Dern and Fonda appear to be extremely familiar with the subject matter they are portraying. Jack Nicholson wrote the screenplay. There is a recent Blu-ray release of this that is just stunning.

Altered StatesAltered States:
It would be impossible to write this article without including this picture. This movie was basically designed to be watched while tripping. William Hurt plays a scientist whose experiments with sensory deprivation tanks and psychedelics cause biological mutations which may change the course of human evolution. During his experiments many of his hallucinations are externalized into reality where the whole audience gets to see them. This 1980 sci-fi classic was written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Ken Russell. When it was released it was the go-to picture for acid heads, but it still holds up to this day as a brainy and well made movie. If you want other recommendations of films to watch while tripping, you could pretty much watch anything Ken Russell directed with the standout lysergic choices being: Gothic, Tommy, and Crimes of Passion.

I know what you’re thinking: But it’s a kid’s movie! Yeah, a really trippy kid’s movie. I might be going out on a limb here, but in my humble opinion Fantasia is the best move Walt Disney Productions ever made. It is unique in their canon. Sure it has traditional Disney elements like Mickey Mouse and the dancing hippos, but it also has abstract flights of fancy that are utterly unique in the history of cinema. The section in the early part of the film where they give the animators free reign to create abstract impressions of Toccata and Fugue In D Minor and The Nutcracker Suite contain some of the most beautiful sequences of film that have ever been created. It is a ballet of pure color and movement and art in its purest form. The later sequences where the artists depict the evolution and death of the dinosaurs set to Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring are equally amazing. They achieve a pure balance between the representational and abstract, a synthesis that incorporates all the prevalent artistic movements of that era. The ending mashup of Night on Bald Mountain and Ave Maria bring everything to a delirious and breathtaking conclusion. This film arguably contains many of the best sequences of animation ever created. When it comes to animation, it doesn’t get better than Disney and this movie lets their very best create their most inspired work. This film pretty much created the art of the music video. Sure people like Max Fleischer and even Disney themselves had created things like this before where animation was done to music, but there had never been anything on this level. It still holds up just as well today as it did when it was released in 1940. The film looks amazing on the recent Blu-ray editions and they even include a bonus cartoon which wasn’t in the original. Walt Disney had planned on doing a series of Fantasia movies. He thought of them as a new art form, a kind of feature-length collection of music videos. He hoped to release new Fantasia films every two to three years and production work was started on a second film, which sadly was never completed. The recent Blu-ray editions of this include a completed seven minute sequence called Destino that was supposed to be in the second film. It is a collaboration between Walt Disney and Salvador Dali, and one of the best things that either artist did. I know this is a kid’s film, but if you ever want to totally blow your mind just eat a little acid or shrooms and watch Destino and Fantasia, and watch their clocks melt and their colors bleed.

This crazed revenger thriller from 2018 is one of the newest entries on the list. It was directed by Panos Cosmatos and stars Nicolas Cage in the most deranged role of his career. He plays an angry husband completely high on LSD out to avenge his murdered wife. He's really a wonder to watch in this. Cage plays Red Miller who lives with his girlfriend Mandy in a cabin deep in the woods. Their idyllic existence is interrupted by the arrival of a twisted hippy LSD cult led by Jeremiah Sand who becomes obsessed with Mandy. This leads to a series of events that results in Mandy's death and sets off one of the most psychedelic revenge scenarios in cinematic history. The cult is aided by a band of bikers strung out on experimental LSD who are like some new form of urban legend. In the second half of this movie everybody onscreen is tripping their brains out and the insanity just ratchets higher and higher. The cinematography in this film is some kind of surreal "trip-o-vision" as the director tries to portray the fried brains of his characters. Strange hallucinations and trails will flicker across the screen at random moments, actors faces will start pulsating and mutating for no reason, no matter what your mental state, by the end of the movie you'll feel like you dropped a tab yourself. This film is well on its way to becoming a cult classic and causes a kind of brain damage in viewers that we seldom see anymore.

The Fabulous Baron MunchausenThe Fabulous Baron Munchausen:
This is the best work of art I’ve discovered in the past couple years. The images and scenes in this film transcend mere cinema and enter the realm of timeless masterpieces. This Czechoslovakian art film was created by the visionary director Karel Zeman. I've only been exposed to Zeman's work in the past three years but he has quickly become one of my favorite directors. His films are utterly unique, later artists like Terry Gilliam have tried to copy him but no one can top his original visions. Believe me, no one else makes movies like Zeman. His films create a stunning fusion of animation and live action. All of his movies are amazing but this is his crowning achievement. Zeman seems to be drawing from the entire history of fantastic fiction and art as his sources of inspiration. This movie uses color for emotional and dramatic effect better than almost any film I've ever seen. It is a constant bombardment of one breathtakingly beautiful scene after another. The movie starts with footprints on the ground. Then the camera starts to pan upwards into the sky, past butterflies, then birds, hang gliders, planes, and jets. Finally a rocket races by on it's way to the moon. When the first man on the moon lands he is shocked to find the moon is already inhabited by some of the most famous characters in man's history. He meets Cyrano de Bergerac and Baron Munchausen, who mistakes the astronaut for an alien and takes him on a wild trip through the history of mankind to teach him about the human condition. What follows is a series of surreal and beautiful adventures that will leave you in drop-jawed wonder. The Fabulous Baron Munchausen would easily make it onto my list of ten best pictures ever made and I dare you to watch this film without completely falling in love with it. Every film Zeman made is fantastic with The Fabulous World of Jules Verne/Invention For Destruction being another standout. The Criterion Collection just released a remastered Blu-ray set of three of his films that’s arguably one of best releases of all time.

Jacob's LadderJacob’s Ladder:
If you want to have a really bad trip, then watch this movie. In fact, watching this while tripping might be one of the worst experiences of your life, cinematic or otherwise. The movie tells the story of a Vietnam vet who starts experiencing hallucinations after returning home from the war. As he gets closer to the truth of what is happening he starts to wonder if he was part of some horrible military experiment. This is one of the best and most unsettling horror films ever made and, if you watch it while on psychedelics, it will scare the living bejesus out of you. Watch at your own risk.
2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey:
R. Crumb told me that in the late sixties theaters around Times Square continuously screened this 24/7 specifically so that hippies could drop acid and watch it, which makes it not just one of the great classics of world cinema but the ultimate piece of hippie acid porn as well. The ending is one of the best blow-your-mind sequences ever filmed and it still holds up well to this day. The meltdown and shutdown of Hal 9000 will also keep your tracers smearing. The movie tells the story of strange alien intelligences that start tinkering with man’s evolution. Thousands of years later a space expedition is sent to Jupiter to try and make contact with them. The ending is such a mind fuck that there are multiple interpretations of what it actually means. It’s one of Stanley Kubrick’s two or three best films, so it actually has cultural merit and artistic value as well as being a go to brain fry for your local acid head.

Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog):
Eons ago, when I was in college, me and two other friends dropped some especially strong windowpane and went to our local midnight movie house to watch a midnight screening of Reefer Madness. It turned out we were the only three people in the theater and our fried condition was obvious to the ticket taker/projectionist. When the lights darkened instead of putting on Reefer Madness, he put on this. It was so mind boggling we thought the three of us were sharing a group hallucination. Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel would have loved our reaction. This movie was their attempt to create the most accurate interpretation of dreams that had ever been filmed. They pretty much hit it out of the park, and to this day it is one of the best pieces of dream cinema and surrealism ever created. There are haunting unique images in it that will be burned into your brain forever. By this point in my life I’ve probably seen it dozens of times but the opening eyeball slicing scene still flips me the fuck out. There are mouthless men dragging priests and pianos covered in dead mules, transvestite bicyclists and dead lovers buried up to their chests in the desert. A man steals a woman’s underarm hair and has an anthill emerge from the palm of his hand. It is only 21 minutes long, but it is a non-stop assault of the senses with more searing images than one sees in the average feature length movie. Watch any other film on this list and then let this be your LSD comedown aperitif.

Un Chien Andalou, An Andalusian Dog

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