“You live in the image you have of the world. Every one of us lives in a different world, with different space and different time.” – Alejandro Jodorowsky
Whilst the basis of western filmmaking is based on a rigid structure of narrative, including character stereotypes and practical cinematography, its origins lie in something far more experimental. Some of the earliest and most influential films of all time, including the likes of A Trip to the Moon from George Méliès and Metropolis by Fritz Lang, inspired tales of strange ethereal wonder that utilised a wide range of eclectic film styles and forms of expression.
Over a century later and cinema has enjoyed a vast increase in its amount of filmmaking devices, with the dawn of animatronics, green screen and the brand new StageCraft, allowing filmmakers to conjure new worlds previously restricted to the corners of a creatives’ own mind. Filmmakers such as David Lynch, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Gaspar Noé are famous for toying with such experimentation, using the medium of film as a sandbox to design their own eccentric worlds.
Spanning multiple genres, cinematic styles and cultural influences, the most experimental films of all time offer a psychedelic delight of twisted colours, technical wizardry and mind-bending storytelling. These are the films that make us consider our reality from a new angle, from the wild animated worlds of René Laloux to Alejandro Jodorowsky landscapes of dreams, wonder and insanity.
The 20 best psychedelic films of all time:
20. The Red Shoes (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1948)
A ballerina (Moira Shearer) is torn between her love of dance and her love for a composer (Marious Goring) in this British classic. With her instructor (Boris Lermontov) testing her commitment to her craft against her romance, the dilemma brings a heavy emotional burden.
The Red Shoes utilises a fantastical style in its infamous dance sequences to express meaning. Art director Hein Heckroth explained, “when the girl is dancing, she feels she is a bird, a flower, a cloud; when the spotlight hits her, she feels she is alone”.
19. Midsommar (Ari Aster, 2019)
A grieving young woman (Florence Pugh) travels to Sweden with her emotionally unavailable partner and some friends. They plan to study a summer festival celebrated by a cult, with nightmarish results.
Midsommar explores repressed grief in its psychedelic drug scenes, as Dani has a bad trip under mushrooms where she sees her deceased family. Her boyfriend also experiences bizarre events under the influence and manipulation of the cult, and the audience can only sit there and watch in shock.
18. Fehérlófia/Son of the White Mare (Marcell Jankovics, 1981)
A horse goddess gives birth to three powerful brothers. After growing up separately, they reunite to save three princesses from three evil dragons in the Underworld.
Surreal and trippy imagery communicates this film’s mythical tones, as the characters defy laws of physics through movement. The colour palette is strikingly vibrant and demonstrates the film’s stance as a powerhouse in animation.
17. Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000)
Three youths plan to get rich from selling drugs, but their own addictions pose problems. One of their mothers (Ellen Burstyn) finds her own dreams ruined by new substance abuse.
Requiem for a Dream‘s drug use sequences are experimental and abstract in visual composition, yet, the aftermath is tragically bitter. Images of dilated pupils and accelerating bloodstream are used alongside distorted sounds to exemplify the psychedelic influence, followed by sequences of ruined lives and broken emotional states.
16. Bliss (Joe Begos, 2019)
During a creativity block, a hard-partying artist indulges in a series of dangerous drug binges. These drugs come with a savage taste for blood.
Begos shows an electrifying world of madness. The surreal visuals and heavy metal soundtrack blend to amplify the senses, with the occasional buckets of gore to twist some stomachs. It’s just as bloody as it is psychedelic.
Published: September 07, 2022
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News