The following works of art create worlds of distortion with cinematography, narration, editing, sound design, and music.
Un Chien Andalou (1929)
The distorted narrative, dream-like imagery, and surrealistic nature of Bunuel’s short film predate psychedelia, but it has a psychedelic presence that influences many movies in the later decades. As a masterpiece of surrealism, his film is the perfect example of symbolism and irrationality of the unconscious mind.
In his first film, Bunuel wrote the screenplay with famous surrealist painter Salvador. An actor opens a woman’s eye at the beginning of the film to suggest letting go of preconceived notions and seeing with new eyes.
In addition, some excerpts from Wagner’s “Liebestod” play during the film, an operatic piece from Tristan und Isolde that never quite reaches its climax, making the film even more unsettling. Bunuel confuses his viewers by jumping back and forth in time with subtitles that state “Eight years later” or “Sixteen years ago.”.
Instead of an overt plot, it consists of a combination of surrealistic images. There is distorted religious symbology in the film, such as ants crawling out from the stigmatic hand of the protagonist (a young unnamed man played by Pierre Batcheff), and dream-like scenes. Apparently, the man in pursuit of a young woman (Simone Mareuil) was dragging a piano topped with a dead donkey carcass.
A surrealistic image creates a distorted sense of reality, a quality found in many psychedelic films.
The Red Shoes (1948)
The classic film The Red Shoes tells of the conflict between the love of a young man and the love of dance in the story of dancer Victoria Page (Moira Shearer), played by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.
Toward the end of the film, the dance sequence captivates the viewer with its painted landscapes and POV shots, which subtly reveal Victoria’s subconscious thoughts and fears.
The young, talented Victoria “Vicky” Page wants to join a ballet company. During her first visit to the city, she meets the fierce Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook). In a small production of Swan Lake, Lermontov casts Vicky in his ballet of The Red Shoes, based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale about a young woman who is possessed by red shoes and dances to death.
Lermontov is distressed when Vicky falls in love with the young composer of the ballet, Julian Craster (Marius Goring). In no time at all, Vicky is torn between the love of her life and her passion for her art, forced to choose between the two.
In their glorious Technicolor, Powell and Pressburger capture the passions of their characters. Vicky’s fiery and tormented emotions are brought to life in the dance sequence by Oscar-winning sets. In this sequence, the subtle point-of-view shots add to the psychological drama and take the viewer even further inside Vicky’s mind.
Known as a precursor to psychedelic filmmaking, The Red Shoes fuses hallucinatory elements into a mainstream film, making it a classic that continues to inspire contemporary filmmakers, such as Martin Scorsese and Brian de Palma.
The first female film director of Czechoslovakia, Daisies was made during the Czech New Wave movement. A film without a real plot is led by two impish young women who have fun while causing trouble.
Chytilová plays with social mores in her film starring two heroines named Marie (Jitka Cerhová and Ivana Karbanova) who frolic and flirt the way they please. Among other subversive actions, the Maries frolic in bikinis and lingerie, wreak havoc at a nightclub and destroy a fancy banquet.
Banned upon release, the film depicts a destructive playfulness that Czech authorities apparently found dangerous and explores different film stocks, spontaneous collages, and other creative ways to play with the film medium. Film stock from World War II is intercut amongst the characters’ antics in this film with a political undertone. Daisy’s psychedelic imagery and psychedelic editing create a stir among audiences.
Point Blank (1967)
Boorman’s neo-noir thriller, Point Blank, is a hypnotic tale of revenge. A mesmerizing experience for the viewer is created by the pacing, color choices, and atmospheric music, as well as Lee Marvin’s deadpan portrayal of Walker.
After being shot and left for dead on Alcatraz Island, Walker returns to San Francisco to exact revenge on the people who helped him commit a crime. Walker sets out for retribution with the help of Yost (Keenan Wynn).
Reese (John Vernon) didn’t only steal his money and leave him on Alcatraz, he also took his wife Lynn (Sharon Acker), who is now a depressed, emotionless wreck living in guilt for double-crossing Walker. Having found Lynn’s sister Chris (Angie Dickinson), Walker gets closer to Reese following Lynn’s overdose.
By pacing the film from a slow, moody atmosphere to intense violence and action, the film creates a hypnotic trance from which the viewer is awakened. The colors in the film contribute to the atmosphere- Lynn’s silver-gray apartment, for example, reflects her unfeeling, drab character.
Walker’s suits have a mysterious chameleon-like quality due to his suit color changing based on where he is. It remains unclear if the events that take place on Alcatraz Island are merely dreams, illusions, or if Walker is in fact a ghost at the end of the film.
2001: A Space Odyssey
A captivating, brilliant work of art, Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece is the pinnacle of science fiction. György Ligeti’s haunting, dissonant avant-garde music combined with the film’s stunning visuals creates a truly memorable filmic experience. As Kubrick examines the history and future of humanity, he touches the viewer’s senses, bringing him face to face with the great unknown that lies ahead.
For the first time in history, we see protohumans making use of tools in the film’s opening. As humans have evolved, we are now masters of our tools because the prehuman tool has been transformed into a spaceship through a graphic match cut. An object recently found on the surface of a lunar crater is being investigated by the spacecraft.
In this crater stands a giant black monolith, which was also found on Earth by the protohumans earlier in the film. During the film, we will find another monolith. Our next stop is Discovery One, a spaceship headed for Jupiter. During a state of cryogenic slumber, three astronauts—including Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, and Dr. Frank Poole—are guided by the ship’s talking computer, HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain).