Psych-Out is a 1968 psychedelic drama directed by Richard Rush, and Richard rushed to get the movie made in time to cash in on the Summer of Love.
The film follows a deaf girl called Jenny (Susan Strasberg), who arrives in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district looking for her brother. She meets hippy musician Stony (Jack Nicholson), and romance blossoms like a purple flower.
Low on plot but big on atmosphere, Psych-Out has a cool, trippy vibe. A snapshot of the countercultural lifestyle, this does for the ’60s what Saturday Night Fever does for the ’70s. Let’s call it Saturday Night Reefer.
It plays on countercultural stereotypes, who take drugs, play music and drive around in a hippie van – just like Scooby-Doo, who was created the following year.
Nicholson gives another electric performance, but he’s clearly far too intense to play a hippie. You wouldn’t want him grinning manically at you while you’re tripping, let’s put it that way. He’s the least convincing rock guitarist since The Edge.
For a film about music, the soundtrack is lacking. Limp psychedelic rock from the likes of Strawberry Alarm Clock and The Seeds fails to capture the acidic energy of the San Francisco sound. If you’re going to make a Haight-Ashbury movie, you need some Jefferson Airplane or Big Brother and the Holding Company – and ideally some people with real facial hair, instead of badly glued on mutton chops.
Worse still is the sound editing, with the music playing out of sync and continuing long after the musicians have put down their instruments. Who edited this, Milli Vanilli? We’re probably supposed to be too high to notice, but that’s no excuse – Jerry Garcia spent two and a half years editing The Grateful Dead Movie, and no one’s ever been higher than him.
Nevertheless, this is a groovy hippie flick, featuring another great Golden Gate Bridge sequence and the always-welcome Bruce Dern as The Seeker. For a fun, freewheelin’ experience, Psych-Out is worth the trip.