Technicolor Dreams: Psychedelia as a Countercultural Aesthetic in British films and light shows, 1965-1975
Psychedelia emerged in the mid-1960s as a countercultural style with a wide range of cultural and stylistic manifestations. This psychedelic aesthetic was shared by underground film, light shows, “happenings” and the graphic design of underground posters and illustrations in alternative press outlets. The themes and visual tropes of psychedelia were also adopted by a number of documentaries and commercially released feature films during the decade. This study of British psychedelic film and visual culture in the 1960s identifies a number of stylistic tropes, formal motifs and popular culture forms.
The fact that the term psychedelia was coined to describe the experience of taking lysergic acid diethylamide-25 (LSD) has had the effect of reinforcing its relationship to the counterculture, as well as narrowing the range of experiences associated with it. Early attempts by artists, writers and critics to identify the shared characteristics of a psychedelic style either associated it too narrowly and literally with drug-taking, or identified it in terms too broad to be useful. My research considers the extent to which ideas about psychedelia are communicated in the films and light shows, through a formal and thematic analysis of tropes which I see as constituting a ‘psychedelic style’. A key area of investigation is the way that ideas about psychedelia—its aesthetics and the range of ideas that artists and writers attached to those aesthetics—circulated between underground and more mainstream contexts.