Hidden Flick: Captain Trips Clips

Oddly, the length of the film is actually not a deterrent as the massive mixture of storylines, narrators, differing points of view and onslaught of wonderfully weird and adventurous characters propels the stories within a story—a beautifully onionesque labyrinth—continually forward into deeper layers of head-tripping space. That latter component may have been what drew Garcia and Robert Hunter, his songwriting partner, to the film upon its initial release in 1965. The acid-drenched tale—a film so heady one is made to feel as if someone dosed their popcorn after the first hour—is actually similar to some of Garcia’s musical space explorations as it begins with a hook, moves further away from the melody, transforms into an overwhelmingly weird tapestry and eventually transcends the imagination before completing its witty and wicked trip in a single, refined focal point.

The Saragossa Manuscript was Garcia’s favorite film and, after just a few scenes, the viewer can see the connection. The guitarist, who edited and directed The Grateful Dead Movie in the late 1970s, had also wanted to film Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan. Alas, Garcia’s cinematic aspirations appeared to fade as he slipped further down his own devilish and druggy path into oblivion—a tragedy so profound that the writer, Ken Kesey commented after Garcia’s funeral that he was upset that people only thought of the Dead icon as a guitarist and not the great artist he was in so many other arenas.

I can also see why Bunuel—the infamous Spanish surrealist who mocked convention in his films—and Neil Gaiman—an extremely gifted graphic novelist turned into the Goth & Dragons king of fiction and film scripts (see the recent ingenious interpretation of the cinematic Beowulf for further proof of his deep commitment to powerfully bizarre mythmaking)—would mention the film as either a masterpiece or an enormous influence on their respective work. Their careers also display tangents within a framework that leaves one feeling a bit dazed, but never too confused about the magical effect.

Scorsese teamed with Coppola to have Pacific Film Archives restore and release the film which played at numerous international film festivals and art houses before its arrival on DVD in 2001 via Cowboy Pictures. One can see how this film influenced Coppola’s vision of Vietnam in his masterwork, Apocalypse Now, and, indeed, there are numerous moments in his adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which appear to have The Saragossa Manuscript surreal stamp of mischievous approval.

In the end, Coppola and Scorsese are mentioned as the “presenters” of the restored classic “in dedication to Jerry Garcia” on the DVD box and liner notes and I think Captain Trips would have been proud of this tribute to his fondness for a film that took over thirty years to achieve the receptive audience and critical re-evaluation it deserved.

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5 Responses

  1. This is the best movie -In my top ten of all time. if you haven’t seen it, do so. It is extremely good.

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