Altered States

December 27, 2011

Paddy Chayefsky had no business being angry about the treatment given to his screenplay for the movie Altered States directed by Ken Russell in 1980.  Reportedly, he was angry about the way his beautifully crafted dialog was treated.  Here’s a rant by whiz kid scientist Jessup (William Hurt) delivered while he’s raging drunk:

“What dignifies the Yogic practices is that the belief system itself is not truly religious. There is no Buddhist God per se. It is the Self, the individual Mind, that contains immortality and ultimate truth.”

Not far from the truth, but an absurd piece of dialog, in context.  All the characters speak in this stilted, intellectual way, which, along with the deadpan treatment of the action, gives the film a comic-ironic dimension.  Apparently, Paddy took the ideas dead seriously, but this story is ridiculous, and what redeems the film is Russell’s usual over-the-top imagery, in this case perfectly in sync with the psychedelic freakout ethos of this post 60s romp that seems trapped in Strawberry Fields.  Religious, mythic, erotic, pop-cultural, oh that Ken, he’s something else!

In this series of images from Jessup’s mushroom induced hallucinations with rural Mexican Indians, Russell recreates the craziness of pharmaceutical mirages and seems to be paying homage to that milestone of surrealism, An Andalusian Dog.

That Andalusian Dog

 

 

 

Man meets his inner lizard.

 

Pagan Goddess

Adoration

…………………  …………..

 

In stone, for eternity.

As I said, the plot and the ideas driving it are laughable:  it includes an extended interlude in which Jessup regresses, physically, to a primitive hominoid state, nearly kills some security guards, and finds peace only after breaking into a zoo and devouring a sheep raw.  I wanted nothing but to survive that night, to eat, to sleep.  Italo Calvino treats the same ideas, the bliss of pre-cultural consciousness, in his wry and funny piece, Interview with a Neanderthal Man, but, as I said, the screenplay of this film plays it straight.

During Jessup’s final trip, there are some nice images, and more homages to films, I think:

Could be Kiss Me Deadly.  What’s in the damn box?

Bill Gates freaking out on Windows?  Where did this primordial goo come from?  And who’s going to mop it up?

This definitely recalls 2001:  A Space Odyssey.

The Love Goddess saves the day!


Wisdom of Charlie Manson-Karamazov

October 29, 2010

This  biography of Timothy Leary I’m reading is alternately tedious and fascinating.  Leary’s tolerance for vast quantities of industrial grade  LSD is astonishing.  (I mean that literally – he had access to shipments from Sandoz, Inc.) The book reads as an endless series of orgies, police entanglements, fugitive exits, psychedelic ecstasies that have no effect on anything but their subject, and bizarre pseudo-intellectual jibberish.  Leary’s narcissism, egotism, and total disregard for the welfare of those around him is monumental.  It’s amazing he wasn’t killed somewhere along the line.

As I skim about the narrative, I come upon this gem of a situation:  Leary is confined to solitary confinement in Folsom State Prison in California in 1973.  His next door neighbor is Charles Manson.  (How time passes.   Not everyone will know who he is…)  They communicate via the airshafts.  Their dialog, as recalled by Leary, pits them as equals and total opposites.  The good angel of LSD vs. the bad angel of Helter Skelter.  A passage reminded me vividly of the story of The Grand Inquisitor from Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov.

Leary: Hey, did you send me The Bugler and food?  Thanks.

Manson:  I love everyone and try to share what I have.  I’ve been waiting to talk to you for years…Now we have plenty of time.  We were all your students, you know.  You had everyone looking up to you.  You could have led people anywhere you wanted … And you didn’t tell them what to do.  That’s what I could never figure out… Why didn’t you?  I ‘ve wanted to ask you that for years.

L:  That was the  point.  I didn’t want to impose my realities.  The idea is that everybody takes responsibility for his nervous system, creates his own reality.  Anything else is brainwashing.

M: That was your mistake.  No one wants responsibility.  Everyone wants to be told what to do, what to believe, what’s really true and really real.

L: And you’ve got the answers for them?

Charlie goes on to say that he has it all figured out, it’s in the Bible.  It’s all the fault of the women. 

Does it matter?  One line is just as good as another, right?


The Harvard Psychedelic Project

October 28, 2010

It was mushrooms, not LSD, but the name says it all.  I read about it in this biography of Timothy Leary.  He’s one of those figures at the edge of my historical memory – I missed all that, going to college in the late 1970’s.

No wonder we got into the Vietnam War.  Those guys at Harvard were nut cases!