“ Genre: Music DVDs / Theatrical Release: 1968 / Suitable for 18 years and over / Director: Richard Rush / Actors: Susan Strasberg, Dean Stockwell, Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Adam Roarke ... / DVD released 2004-04-05 at MGM Entertainment / Features of the DVD: PAL „
RELEASED: 1968, Cert. 18
RUNNING TIME: Approx. 101 mins
DIRECTOR: Richard Rush
PRODUCERS: Dick Clark & Norman T Herman
SCREENPLAY: E Hunter Willett, Betty Ulius & Betty Tusher
MUSIC: Ronald Stein
Susan Strasberg as Jenny Davis
Jack Nicholson as Stoney
Dean Stockwell as Dave
Bruce Dern as Steve Davis
FILM ONLY REVIEW
Jenny is a deaf girl who leaves home in order to travel to San Francisco and find her runaway brother.
On arriving in the city, Jenny is befriended by Stoney and Dave, who are members of a hippie psychedelic rock band. Scouring the Haight-Ashbury area, Stoney and Dave manage to find Jenny's brother (Steve), but aren't sure how to re-introduce her to him as he has travelled so far down the hippie/druggy route that they aren't sure what to do.
In between times, musicians Stoney and Dave smoke lots of dope, drop a bit of acid, practice with their band and provide the musical entertainment at a local club.
Psych-Out is one of these films which cashed in on what was happening in the mid to late 1960s in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. It certainly isn't an anti-drug/anti-hippie propaganda film, nor does it sell the peace, love and flowers dream.
It may appear irrelevant to mention Jenny's deafness, but some of the difficulties of her condition are highlighted in the film. However, I'm not sure if such was overall necessary to the storyline.
The acting, together with the dialogue, is seriously questionable, with in my opinion the best effort coming from Bruce Dern as Steve Davies, Jenny's brother. He did over-act somewhat, especially towards the end, but there are a couple of little stretches where he comes across as moderately convincing. I feel that Jack Nicholson and Dean Stockwell were almost laughably mis-cast in their roles as very young hippie musicians. Although both Nicholson and Stockwell are very much younger in this film than most of us are used to seeing them, each was grossly unsuited to his role as they were simply too old. Why were younger actors not chosen? Also, Nicholson looks decidedly out of place dressed in beads, headband, a kaftan and strumming a guitar in a psychedelic band. As far as his acting quality is concerned, he comes across exactly the same as he does in everything else. Dean Stockwell's input is slightly more convincing, but he probably suits the typecast hippie even less than Nicholson.
It is very obvious that Psych-Out was made on a shoestring budget. The colour quality is poor as it is far too bright, everything is slightly out of focus when it isn't supposed to b e (such as outside of the druggy scenes), with the camera work being clumsy, shaky, and homing in at some bad angles.
Despite the storyline being very weak, the authenticity - aside from having a poor choice of actors - of the hippie element is good, although some of the acid trip scenes are very overdone. However, this was back in the days when the general LSD dosage was far stronger than it has ever been since, so maybe those scenes are closer to reality than I believe?
The best parts of Psych-Out are the film's nostalgia value and the music, which offers a decent incidental backup to the main score (hard to tell sometimes which is the main score and which is incidental) of offerings from then popular West Coast psychedelic bands such as Grateful Dead, Big Brother & The Holding Company...amongst others...and a few tiny snippets from Jimi Hendrix.
Overall, I see Psych-Out as perhaps being rather pointless, having little or no power to the storyline, being a very amateurish attempt at trying to convey the atmosphere of what was happening in San Francisco during the short-lived hippie years. However, some aspects are well delivered - just little things such as groups of flower children having fun in the park - and I guess the atmosphere of this was accentuated due to the film being made at the time all this was happening, rather than being a modern-day attempt at re-creating an important part of 1960s youth culture. The music is definitely this Psych-Out's strongest offering, and in my opinion is worth watching for that alone.
Would I recommend Psych-Out? At the end of the day I'd say yes, but it really would only appeal to people who either remember the 1960s hippie dream which turned sour, or who have a specialised interest in American youth culture from that era.....also of course, those who have a love of West Coast psychedelic music. Anybody choosing to watch the film really shouldn't expect a solid story with good acting and equally good special effects, but it is a reasonably enjoyable trip down memory lane - even with the terrible acting/casting and the weak storyline. I don't think I'd choose to watch it again though, but am not sorry that I have done. This definitely is a 'once only' kind of film, which may have limited appeal.
At the time of writing, Psych-Out can be purchased from Amazon as follows:-
New: from £3.71 to £14.00
Used: from £3.07 to £20.00
Collectible: only one copy currently available @ £6.00 (appears to be used)
Some DVDs on Amazon are available for free delivery within the UK, but where this doesn't apply, a £1.26 charge should be added to the above figures.
Thanks for reading!
~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~
**What is it about?**
Made in 1968 Psych-out it a film that centres on Jenny a deaf girl who has run away to San Fransisco to look for her brother, she bumps into a hippie band called Mumblin' Jim who take her under thier wing and help her find her brother.
**So is it any good?**
This plot is very basic as most of the film is made up of a mixture of music and drug trips. Occasionally I felt as if I needed to be high to understand what was happening.
This is not a serious film and should be taken light heartedly. Jack Nicholson who plays one of the members of the band is, as usual, a great member of the cast and I usually enjoy any of the films he has been in.
The film feels like it happens quickly, jumping from scene to scene and the ending, I felt, was very sudden and unexpected. Although there are some factors left open to interpretation which I like in a film.
For the time of filming there are some good graphics and dramatic scenes using "special effects" but it was filmed in the 60's so don't expect much.
As a film which is centred on the hippie lifestyle a good sound track is a must and this is one way in which Psych-Out does not disappoint. I really enjoyed the music, performed by a much unknown band called Storybrook. The music fits well with the film and probably makes it a lot more enjoyable than it would be otherwise.
Jenny who is played by Susan Strasberg acts the role very well, as I can imagine playinig a deaf character would be challenging.
**Where can I get it?**
Like most DVDs it is availale on Amazon-very cheap! Although if it was much more expensive than £5 I probably wouldn't bother. It is not the kind of film I will watch again and again. Maybe I'll pop it on if I'm in the mood for some 1960's nostalgia....
There are few periods that have come to symbolise the divide (real or imagined) between young and old more than the late 1960s. The reasons for this are varied, but chief among them is surely that rebellion was done en masse rather than in dribs and drabs, as had been the case in times previous. And it was, of course, all very visible on TV. That's not to say that all young people rebelled - most probably didn't, not in any real sense, though most did probably take advantage of the social opportunities created by those time that were a changin' - it's just that those who did rebel made such a noise doing so that it still echoes in our ears forty years later, though much of what was said and done at the time by rebelling yoofs has long since morphed into cliché: flower power, love-ins, happenings, 'turn on, tune in, drop out', 'make love, not war', 'give peace a chance', etc, etc. Such easy-to-swallow, bite-sized, counter-culture chunks were all that most people on the outside were interesting in.
So in America when it came to making movies about hippies and all their counter-culture goings-on, most producers chose not to deal with heavy issues, but rather with just the shiny happy images and clichés; so much easier to please the teen audiences in Omaha, Wichita, and Milwaukee who preferred to watch the West Coast party from a safe distance. One production company, American International Pictures, was only too happy to provide fodder for such an audience. AIP had long been in the business of producing low-budget teen movies - from beach-party bikini pics to Roger Corman horrors - and in the middle-to-late 1960s it was no surprise that biker gangs and hippies got the AIP treatment.
Psych-Out, released in 1968 and directed by Richard Rush, is a perfect example of a movie that was designed to serve a niche market. It's a shiny, colourful and sanitized account of hippies at play, a movie that had just enough 'right on' appeal to please the 60s kids but one that lacked any real subversion. This was not a movie to send Mom and Dad running for the hills. The fact that the film was produced by American TV impresario and host Dick Clark was evidence enough of that. Starring a few familiar faces in unfamiliar roles, Psych-Out was safe-but-enjoyable trash.
Jenny (Susan Strasberg) is a deaf teenage runaway who is looking for her brother, Steve (Bruce Dern), a semi-deranged Jesus look-alike known to most as the Seeker. She finds herself in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco (hippie central) and soon falls in with a couple of kindly musicians, Stoney (Jack Nicholson) and Ben (Adam Roarke), who offer to help her find her brother when not trying to make it big with their band, Mumblin' Jim. Cue a cheery and phantasmagorical trip through hippiedom, where along the way we meet a host of cool characters, experience a lot of cool scenes, and groove to some cool sounds. The similarities between this film and The Wizard of Oz can't go unnoticed, though there ain't no Emerald City at the end of it for little Jenny, and The Wizard of Oz was a much better film.
Because films such as this were never intended to be anything more than the sum of their parts, they're virtually critique-proof. The producers of Psych-Out created a few hippies out of available actors, placed them in a well-scrubbed hippie playground, and let them play to their heart's content just so long as they didn't stray outside the fence. The audience was given what the audience wanted, and that didn't include any sight of the dark underbelly of the counter-culture unicorn. And that was absolutely fine. All that we viewers forty years down the line can do is marvel at the corniness of it all (pretending in the process that we're somehow more cynical and sophisticated) and perhaps enjoy the less-than-assured (and occasionally comical) performance of the film's biggest beast, Jack Nicholson, then still a years shy of his big acting breakthrough in Easy Rider.
The plot needn't detain us long for the simple reason that their isn't one. All we have is a series of events that culminate rather abruptly in a dramatic finale of sorts that has little to do with what precedes it. Needless to say, Jenny finds her brother and is slowly educated in the ways of hippiness, though not by her brother, who has demons to battle. Not one hippie cliché fails to make it into the story, and despite cramped communal living being the order of the day everybody looks very clean and tidy. Rumour had it that Jack Nicholson wrote the original script but it was rejected as unsuitable. Whoever the credited scriptwriters were, I have no idea. There seems to be no information available on any of them, so I suppose scriptwriting was not something that occupied them much after this cinematic debut.
One interesting feature of the screenplay is in how much large-print signposting there is, which was presumably a device to guide the hicks in the original audience who were less than familiar with the whys and wherefores of the 'scene' unfolding in front of them. The film opens with a montage of clichéd images - bombs raining down on 'Nam', KKK ceremonies, civil-rights protests - then we shift to a close-up of a glum Susan Strasberg gazing vacantly out the window of a bus. A flower is passed through the window to Susan by a sweet young girl and our glum runaway realises that she is in Frisco, where love is the drug that cures all nastiness. Ms Strasberg laughs with delight as someone awakened from the nightmare called reality. Bless. There is also a variety of clunky slogans shoehorned into the dialogue to intensify the mood: The world is all one big plastic hassle, Man; Junk is the output of a productive society; Don't judge people; Reality is a deadly place. Such slogans were not really intended to deliver a message as such; they were probably just a collection of random platitudes that were added because they sounded like the kinds of things hippies would say.
The performances are all fairly dreadful, and it doesn't help that all the main players are on the wrong side of thirty, and look it despite the ponytails and beads. Susan Strasberg looks elfin enough, but she hardly passes for a teenage runaway, a deaf one at that. Her presence is welcome, however, because she is sweet throughout and a refreshing gush of common sense amid the contrived 'bull' surrounding her. Adam Roarke is instantly forgettable and his brief seemed to be to stand beside Jack Nicholson at all times and only speak when Jack was silent. He therefore says very little. The most irritating character is Dave (Dean Stockwell), a former band mate of Stoney and Ben who looks like Pocahontas and spends most of his time pompously warning the others about the dangers of selling out to "The Man". Dave is something of a guru, it seems.
Because he was who he was (and is who he is), Jack Nicholson deserves a paragraph all to himself. At this time he was still looking around trying to find a suitable niche. He had appeared in a variety of low-budget pics over several years but his professional output for 1968 was mainly as a writer. Together with his director friend, Bob Rafelson, Nicholson wrote the screenplay for (and produced) the enjoyable oddity, Head, a pic that featured those manufactured TV popsters of the time, The Monkees, then at the fag-end of their brief career. Head is now chiefly remembered for a great theme-song written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin and cameo appearances by the likes of Victor Mature and the late-great Frank Zappa (it was the 60s). In Psych-Out, Nicholson's acting performance is familiar enough - the lazy charm is evident - but his fake ponytail isn't convincing, and neither are his several attempts to act the part of an ace guitarist. The latter are quite ridiculous.
Corny content aside, Psych-Out is actually a neatly-put-together film. Director Rush keeps things moving along at a brisk pace and there are numerous colourful location-shots of Frisco's hippie quarter packed full of authentic flowery people. The cinematography of László Kovács is crisp and bright, and despite the print transferred to this DVD not having undergone any restoration, it still looks fresh and modern. Kovács would go on to work with Nicholson in Easy Rider (1969) and Five Easy Pieces (1970), the latter written and directed by the aforementioned Bob Rafelson.
The music is also a saving grace in this film. To accompany the gaudy scenes there is a steady stream of songs and mood music that flows throughout: the first provided by the quaintly named Strawberry Alarm Clock, who also perform (mime to) one on stage; and the second provided by an outfit I've never heard of called The Storybook, who (I assume) also provided the music to which Jack and the boys mime... badly. The theme song is pleasant and sugary and there is also a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance at a mock hippy funeral by a band called The Seeds who were quite big on the West Coast at the time (for about fifteen minutes) and whose minor classic song, I Can't Seem to Make You Mine, recently provided the musical backdrop to a body-spray ad (think guy and gal in their undies).
Despite my sneering tone, the sneering is affectionate because I actually like this film. It's fun. Of course it's complete nonsense, but it was unashamedly so and therefore honest. Psych-Out is no deep exposé of the hippie dream - for that we need to watch something like the Maysles brothers' rock doc, Gimme Shelter - but it's a well-scrubbed Technicolor love-in that happily entertains, though in a very chaste and sanitised way: no full-frontals here! There is much talk of drugs, but all we really see is some tame spliffing and one (hammy) bad acid-trip, the resulting hallucinations of which are represented by a special-effects sequence that must have cost dozens of dollars to produce. Young Jenny also succumbs temporarily to the pitfalls of STP, but I imagine this sequence was only included because someone picked up on the fact that STP (an amphetamine with hallucinogenic properties) was a particular favourite among the Frisco crowd at the time and the scriptwriters wanted to be topical.
Psych-Out is naturally a film with extremely limited appeal. It was a film very much of its time and is now just an obscure curiosity. However, obscure curiosities are often the perfect antidote to an overdose of formulaic modern blockbusters, and if, like me, you enjoy taking an occasional time-out from the latter then this good-natured and colourful wallow in hippiness might suit. If nothing else it looks good, sounds good, raises a smile or two, and at just eighty-six minutes long it doesn't overstay its welcome. There is a longer cut of this movie out there but it doesn't seem to be available on DVD and I don't think it would add much to what we have here anyway. An hour and a half is just fine, and plenty long enough (as they say in Frisco).
Apart from the feature itself, the disc also contains scene selection, multi-lingual subtitles, and dubbed French and German soundtracks (as well as the default English one, of course). We also get the original theatrical trailer, which is wonderfully misleading in the way it drops heavy hints of skin-on-skin action and serious drug-play, neither of which occur in the feature. It's therefore a puzzle to me why this film has an 18 certificate when it's about as shocking as a much-repeated episode of Friends. 'The Man' moves in mysterious ways.
(also posted on ciao under the same username)