THE MAN WITH KALEIDOSCOPE EYES By Tim Lucas
PS Publishing, HB, £20.00
Reviewed by Matthew Johns
This tells the tale of legendary film director Roger Corman and his quest to find the next great movie. If you’re not aware of Roger Corman and his works, he was a fairly prolific filmmaker through the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Perhaps his best-known works include the original ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ (no, not the musical with Rick Moranis, the actual original version of the film from 1960), what’s widely regarded as the first biker culture film ‘The Wild Angels’ starring Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra, movies based on Edgar Allen Poe’s work including ‘The Raven’, and the film that this book is about, ‘The Trip’.
Written by his friend Jack Nicholson (yes, that Jack Nicholson – the Joker to Michael Keaton’s Batman), it was one of the first psychedelic films of the era, a potentially risky title at a time when LSD (which it was about) was being outlawed in some US states.
The book features a cast of familiar names – Corman, Nicholson, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern and more. Set in 1960s Hollywood, it is based largely on actual events and even informed by interviews with Roger Corman and his assistant Frances Doel, but still very definitely a work of fiction. This work takes us on a journey with Corman as he tries to get this film made. Despite being a successful-ish director in Hollywood, Corman is somewhat of a “square” – he enjoys the company of ladies and a drink or three, but that’s as far as it goes. When he gets the script for The Trip from Nicholson, he realises that to make a film about an LSD trip, he needs to understand it better and experience it for himself. He organises a visit to Big Sur to sample LSD and gain insight into how it affects people, setting things out with almost military precision. Selecting the right people to accompany him and making sure that his assistant Frances is with him to document it, he plans for every eventuality.
This particular reviewer has never partaken of LSD, so while I cannot comment on the realism, Lucas’ prose depicts a truly fantastical hallucinogenic journey that Corman undertakes. The insight into the inner workings of 1960s Hollywood, how posters for films were made before the movie even began filming, and the interaction between such legendary names all makes this a real delight to behold and a thoroughly enjoyable read. Absolutely fascinating, and whether you’ve heard of Roger Corman or are a student of the silver age of cinema or not, Lucas’ words fly off the page.