Learning for the ultimate audio-visual Groovology, Austin Powers fans? Scour better stores for the 1968 cult film Psych-Out, now scandalously out of print (it was formerly available on HBO; Video Oyster, 212-989-3300, might help you locate a copy). Director Richard Rush (Color of Night) shot it right after the Summer of Love, in the hippie capital Haight-Ashbury and East L.A. He cooked up a volatile blend of reality and whimsy — call it docu-camp. As a deaf girl (Susan Strasberg) searches the Haight for her deranged brother (Bruce Dern), she crashes with a sly guitarist played by Jack Nicholson. His killer smile in full gleam, Nicholson isn’t the only notable: Henry Jaglom is a drug-crazed artist, and Garry Marshall plays a cop sick of the whole psychedelic thing. Dean Stockwell, in long hair and headband, coins be-true-to-yourself aphorisms, while the Seeds and the Strawberry Alarm Clock deliver music to burn incense by. It’s a vintage electric Kool-Aid brew.
Filmed in 18 days on a $200,000 budget, Psych-Out features the Method-meets-methadone theatrics that won Rush clout in the exploitation field starting with Hell’s Angels on Wheels. With cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs (who later did Easy Rider), he pioneered variable-focus shots that make viewers feel as if they’re weaving through a commune. Reached at home in Bel Air, Rush recalls the Haight ”was getting nasty … I called the Hell’s Angels to protect us against the Love Children!” For years he thought the film was ”terribly sloganistic,” but now says, ”That was at the core of the culture — sound bites, songs, and posters.” For young audiences, ”Make love, not war” may prove more intriguing than, say, ”Show me the money.”