Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick" is straightforward documentary; the writer's work is not

The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick” (2001), from First Run Features and Mark Steensland, is technically a very straightforward documentary account of the work of the famous science fiction author (who passed away in 1982).  It consists mostly of friends of his speaking, and of simple animations involving a figurine of Philip using a typewriter as if he were Barton Fink.

The documentary opens by stating the famous writer’s prevailing interests: “What is real?” and “What is human?”  He was interested in the perception of reality and its fragility. The film mentions his contemplation of the idea of changing identities with someone else (which actually happens in David Lynch’s cult film “Lost Highway”). 

The documentary tends to focus on a couple of specific incidents in his life. The first occurred in November 1971, when his (California) house was broken into, and the safe exploded.  The crime was never solved.  There’s some talk of drug use and of Philip’s belief he could have entered one of his alternate universes.
The other occurred in March 1974, when Philip thought he had a vision of God as a result of a jewelry artifact he saw when receiving a delivery of medication. 

The writer did not have a lot of financial success during his lifetime, despite the huge volume of conventionally published work.

Nevertheless, largely after his death, Hollywood made a repertoire of big-budget films based on his novels.  I remember “Blade Runner”  (based on “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”) well from 1982 (and the “replicant” concept, as well as a gloomy post-modern Los Angeles).  The other biggest films that come to mind are “Minority Report” (2002, with Tom Cruise and the concept of people being arrested for “pre-crime”), and “Total Recall”, “apparently” (but maybe not really) set on Mars, with Arnold Schwarzenegger.  The most important of these films may be Paramount’s “Next” (2007), with Nicholas Cage (based on “The Golden Man”), who has short-term precognition that plays into trying to intercept a nuclear attack, and the end of this film is quite apocalyptic, as I recall.  “A Scanner Darkly” offered interesting animation, and most recently “The Adjustment Bureau” (here, March 5, 2011).  The 2010 hit film “Inception” certainly uses a lot of this writer’s ideas.

At the end of the documentary, a speaker takes comfort in the fact that no one created a cult religion from the author’s work. He compares the writer to Joseph Smith, who, despite near illiteracy, downloaded the Book of Mormon into his brain from visiting angels, and look at today’s church (see Jan. 10, 2012 here).

The new website for the author and film is here

There is, on this site,  a new (Feb. 2012) 15-minute  film “Dickhead” with Marlon Solomon, directed by Ewan Povey and Mark Emmitt, in which a young filmmaker finds himself living inside one of the author’s novels and wondering if he is a replicant. It’s filmed in Britain, partly in black and white, and refers to a future repressive government. It fits barely within PG-13 territory.

Dickhead from Mark Emmitt on Vimeo.

It strikes me that Dan Fry (author of "To Men of Earth", founder of "Understanding", and a (somewhat conservative) pastor who claimed to have housed an extraterrestrial alien named A-lan in his home for a number of years) would be a good subject for documentary film. 

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