Saturday, September 29, 2012

You Don't Know Dick: "The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick" (2001)

Do not believe the video or DVD cover of this 80 minute documentary, or infomercial, depending on your point of view.

The film makers will whet your appetite with an outline about the famed science fiction author, two of whose awkwardly titled novels became "Total Recall" and "Blade Runner." They will tell you that in 1971, Dick's personal safe was blown into, with personal items taken. They will tell you of his suicide attempt. They will tell you of his vision from God in a pink beam of light. They will tell you that he wrote his own personal philosophy in an 8,000 page manuscript. The video box will triumph its own computer animated effects, giving body to Dick's long ago audio tape recordings, complete with a funky techno soundtrack. They lie.

A few science fiction writers and personal friends are trotted out and interviewed at length about the author, who died in 1982. I cannot remember who they were, because they are introduced once and then never referred to by name again. We find out PKD (as he is smarmily referred to constantly throughout) was a drug abusing paranoid who probably had a stash of heroin stolen out of his safe. His suicide attempt was a half-hearted plea for help. His vision and manuscript were either words and images from God, or the hazy result of a regimen of pain killers and vitamins he was hooked on in the 1970's.

The computer animation giving us something to look at as Dick speaks is terribly disappointing. Instead of something along the lines of "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" or even "Shrek," we are treated to bargain basement computer animated cartooning. Dick, who is not shown otherwise, is some guy with a beard sitting at a typewriter. Although we hear him laughing and smiling in the audio, the cartoon PKD never changes expression. We also hear an unseen interviewer (the tapes were taken from a 1975 Rolling Stone interview), and the interviewer remains unseen in the cartoon. The funky techno soundtrack consists of a pre-programmed drum machine laying down a dull track as the cartoon PKD puts paper in his typewriter, pretends to type out little facts about his life (referring to PKD in the third person), then fades to black.

The film feels like a second part to a longer work. His early life is never discussed, this begins in 1971 with the break-in. His novel and short story titles are consistently tossed around, yet I did not know them. Dick is heard talking about the insanity of a novel he wrote entitled "The Three Stigmatas of Palmer Eldritch" (or is it Eldritch Palmer?) and yet the topic is dropped. We are treated to a hand held tour of PKD's papers at Cal State- Fullerton for no other reason than to fill out the movie. At one point PKD had a vision about an illness his son had, and this metaphysical diagnosis saved the offspring's life. He was married? He had a son? These unimportant tidbits of biographical information are never elaborated on.

At the end of the film, the film makers tell you to go out and read some PKD. I think I will, just because the film makers failed in their attempt to answer any questions about the poor guy, much less provide a personal belief "gospel" he may have had. I cannot recommend this sloppy effort. (* *) out of five stars.