(I looked to my left.) Dream inspired. Like- right out of the dream.
I saw this.
(I looked to my left.) Dream inspired. Like- right out of the dream.
In boardrooms throughout the world a fly sits on the wall and listens to the decisions that change the lives of millions. Decisions that are made by shrewd minds and cold hearts. Things you would hate if you knew them. Lives given values calculated on profit projection charts. Morals as commodities. Interest off of pain.
We knew all of this. Or at the very least we were sure this was the case. Sure enough to create the Fly on the Wall Project. It was a simple addition to the already well underway nanobot model. A camera and a host of other sensory equipment added to the microscopic robots. The conversion of the information was very tough- the fastest we could get it still only supported a very condensed bandwidth of signal- so after heavy filtering we could see an ‘almost’ in focus picture and hear well enough to make out voices most of the time. But it was enough to start with. More than enough.
So from boardrooms just like the ones we would be spying on- the money came. We built it. Well- that’s not quite the right word- nanos were more ‘grown’ than built- but the process did much to blur that line. We improved as much as we could, which wasn’t much. The delivery was incredibly simple. A random emergency inspection for safety reasons opens anyone’s doors- especially in the dead of night when an underpaid security guard won’t think its anything worth bothering to phone their boss about. And the few with tighter security than that we’ve already infiltrated anyway.
So- not much of a story yet, right? Rich schmucks spying on other rich schmucks. Who gives a damn? They probably think of it as some delightfully sick sex game anyway. But, as always, this story didn’t end there. Their sick obsession grew with the eating and before you know it they wanted to know a lot more than just who’s fucking who. They wanted high quality video and stereo sound. They wanted to smell the fear. So we improved and improved and made physics let us have it. So we could deliver it on to you, the addict. Always the faithful pusher there to be your smiling friend for not much more than the change in your purse. Everyone gets what they want. It was a lovely relationship. When we couldn’t supply any more quality we politely suggested that perhaps having more areas bugged might give them some added punch and they all did a lovely little square dance throughout the world rubbing a little clear nano-solution on every surface that might see even a glimpse of something remotely interesting.
It wasn’t enough to watch it on a screen anymore either. They wanted direct links so all they had to do was close their eyes and choose which channel to spy on. And it wasn’t just the rich anymore- everyone wanted a piece of the action. Nothing is a better sales pitch than “Someone is watching you right now- Wanna know who?”
We had to build more than a few new buildings to accommodate the servers to process it all. And- most importantly we had to hire Mel. It was gonna take some damn serious math to handle all of this information and he was the famous pioneer of cross-referenced, multi-layered pattern recognition. He’d written the program that could tell you how many times a word was used as a verb in a sarcastic manner that references a dead grandmother was written by an author with a spotted dog and a yellow bathroom in the entire Library of Congress in less time than it took you to read that sentence. But, as you probably also guessed, he was a bit of an asshole. But great minds are guarded ships and sometimes need to hide behind masks to conduct their business.
You see- Mel turns out to have been setting himself up to get into our shop for quite some time. He used us as a way to piggy-back his masterpiece into every mind everywhere. The man was an artist- and we would be the orchestra to play his 9th symphony. He stuck around long enough to get the work done and then became gradually more and more of a pain in the ass until they had to fire him. Once he knew he was covered by a nice paper trail he could throw the switch and no-one would be the wiser. Although it was quite silly for him to worry about getting caught.
So then he flicked the switch.
And for 23 minutes the world truly thought as one. The psychic feedback was enormous. Every person on the planet experiencing every event on the planet simultaneously. The flow of information entered your mind and suddenly you could see everywhere. Hear everything. Taste, smell and feel all there was- at once. Every mind aware of every other mind in every possible way.
Monkey see, monkey do dominated the world for the first 5 minutes. One person would recoil in horror and all those watching them did the same- touched their faces in the same way- thought the same thought- but slightly different each time- echoing out- contributing to a blanket of shifting fractal emotion that covered the world with our collective minds.
Hearts raced. Panic set in. Ears popped and heard no more but the violence of the fear shook the world and you felt it anyway. Millions of people died. Billions more remained comatose for the rest of their time on this Earth.
Turns out Mel didn’t live through his own greatest performance either. His heart gave out at the height of it. Just when it turned at about 15 minutes in. Suddenly no one wanted to be scared anymore. They were just tired of it. The people that couldn’t deal with it and the ones that fed of it were dead and as they died, and the broken ones went quiet, the negative energies that added to the noise went with them. It simply faded away as the ones left behind wanted to feel the pain and the fear no longer. They stood, for one silent moment, the entire planet with no idea of what to do and no idea how to do it. Every mind in the world was sitting silently in the driver’s seat without a clue where to put the key.
But some had held each other. The lucky ones that had been close enough to a loved one when it happened held on tight. They found sanctuary and safety in the bond. Their love hid there at first. But soon the need for safety vanished and their new instinct was to help. To help by holding. To help by loving. And the thoughts traveled like a wash of warmth through the scared and paralyzed and broken. All those who could hug someone did. Everyone accepted everyone. And all those who’s minds had made it through came out on the other end knowing the single most important thing there is to know:
We are one.
A combination of dream inspired and mood piece. What does the watcher see?
There’s a bit of me that’s always up there. Watching. Wondering.
There were unrelated bits before and after this- but this part really stuck.
I’m walking along in town with my new girlfriend and her friend. She is shorter and cute with long brown hair and wearing all brown. Very hippie-ish, peaceful and kind. She is happy and sad at the same time. More sad than happy though. He is a young black guy who is smart but quiet and reserved. I get the feeling that he doesn’t approve of her being with me. Not so much that he doesn’t approve of me. More that he doesn’t approve of her having a boyfriend.
As we walk along a man stumbles out of an alley and into me. He’s in bad shape. Bloody and coughing. He doesn’t say anything just hands me a sword and takes off his brown leather jacket and gives it to me. The jacket is thin brown leather with holes in various patterns cut into it and sparse silver ornaments. Then he falls down and dies.
We’re all sitting in a Volkswagen Rabbit. She’s driving. I’m in the back. We’re heading back to her house after the ordeal. She lives in a large farmhouse partially overgrown. Potted plants under giant trees. A longer driveway. This is obviously the original old farmhouse surrounded by newer housing on all sides. It has a larger yard than theirs and stands out because its yard isn’t perfectly manicured. It’s in need of paint and some yard work but isn’t really rundown. Its lived in. Comfortable. Field stone foundation with worn wood siding that might have been painted once but doesn’t look bad with the paint gone. Some ivy creeping up. Flat driveway. This house sits on top of a rise. All the newer houses are downhill from it- but only slightly. And the newer houses aren’t really new. They’re almost 50 years old themselves but obviously not as old as the farmhouse which feels as though it has been there forever. I feel at home here.
We all get out and go inside. Sitting down and relaxing from the ordeal. Talking about what might have happened. But not much. More me talking and my girlfriend politely listening with a look of tolerant love on her face. Like she loves the sound of my voice but isn’t at all listening to what I’m saying. Her friend says nothing. Just watches us.
I’ve taken off my tall green leather Dr. Martins sat back- trying to figure out what to do with the sword. The sword and the jacket are lying on the dining room table in the corner.
Her and I talk for a bit and things get kind of heated. I can’t remember why. But she says something and I’ve had enough. I can’t remember what it was but it was completely unacceptable to me and I want to leave. I look around and can’t find my boots- so I ask them to give me my boots so I can leave. My home is far away and it’s a very long walk but I don’t care. Just want to go. They or someone else must have taken my boots away and I wanted them back so I could go. She and her friend leave to find my boots for me. She seems a little upset but resigned. He shows almost no emotion but I get the impression that he doesn’t blame me for being upset by what she said. Part of him is on my side and part of him is just happy I’m going to leave- but not in a selfish jealous way. Its almost like he wants me to leave for my own good but isn’t allowed to tell me this.
I’m angry at what she said and that my boots are missing and I notice suddenly that I’ve been in this house before. Many times before.
Ok- here’s where it gets really interesting. I’ve racked my mind since I woke up and I can’t for the life of me remember being in a house like this. I’m a bit uncanny in my recall of floor-plans and I have never been in this house in real life. But in my dream I remember having been there many times. But not in a real world kind of way. I remember the other times I was there as other dreams- making this at least a partially lucid dream- but I’m still completely unaware of my waking self. It’s almost like the dream/real life relationship reversed. I can remember other dreams clearly- like normal memories- but the waking world does not enter my thoughts at all. The waking world- in my dream- has no meaning. I’m lucid enough to know that I am dreaming and to remember the other times I was in the house as other dreams with other characters and even geographic locations, but this seems completely normal to me. No thoughts of the waking world at all.
I’m talking to myself out loud- about being in the house many times before.
“I keep getting pulled back to this house. Maybe ten times now. I was at a party once here. House was filled with maybe 30 people. Great party.” And suddenly I notice there are two old guys in the living room with me. They’re watching the TV avidly. They take no notice of me or what I’ve said. I’m embarrassed for a second until I see what they’re watching on TV. It was like Pokemon meets the 700 Club with a hefty dose of Touched by an Angel. Too hefty in fact. The show was a live action soap opera about angels that have different clans and families and fight each other with their own unique powers. One of those shows you couldn’t follow unless you’ve been watching it for years. But it was really cheesy. All the angels had white plastic wings and wore these garish almost Anime costumes and carried tons of weapons and gadgets and magical stuff. It was a grab-bag of gimmicky TV crap. And then before the commercial break there was a segment back with the studio audience where it got all religious. People in the crowd really enraptured by the fake angel on the stage as he closed his eyes and put two fingers on his head and said, “Is there someone here with…”
Cut to a shot of the spellbound audience swelling with hope- eyes growing wide.
“…a hundred dimes?!”
One girl screams while the rest look mildly upset. Someone comes to help her to the stage as everyone claps and acts more excited then they really are. It couldn’t be more fake and these two old guys were drinking up every second of it.
I ask, “What the hell is this?”
They respond, “You mean you don’t watch it? Everybody loves Angels.”
I’m a little disturbed by all this and now really want my boots so I can leave. The commercial is on and they wander to get stuff from the kitchen. They notice the sword on the table and recognize it. They start going on about how this is such-and-such’s sword and it occurs to me that they are talking about the show- they really think its real. Even the stupid audience crap didn’t break the spell for them. They’re arguing about angel genealogy when the girl and her friend return with my boots. I sit on the couch to put them on. Still angry with her and weirded out by the old guys and the strange angel show. The boots are for some reason covered in and filled with gravel and dirt. I empty them out on the floor and clean them as best I can. The girl and her friend watch me intently but the show is back on so the old guys are glued to the TV.
I finish cleaning one of the boots and start pulling it on only to discover it’s a short maroon boot and mine were tall and green.
“These aren’t my boots!”
I’m very irritated now. I order her and her friend to bring me my boots and they go off to get them. They don’t seem very upset that their ruse didn’t work. Its almost like they were just too lazy to care and hoped I wouldn’t notice or something.
Finally they return with my green boots which I put on and get up to leave about the same time the show ends. The old men notice me again. I say they can keep the sword- I couldn’t walk home with it anyway. They are grateful for this but keep arguing about the show and which angel the sword belongs too and what they should do with it.
I pull on the brown leather jacket and head out the door. The old guys follow me- trying to preach to me about the angel show and how important it is that I believe too. I can tell they mean well but I want nothing to do with any of them.
“If you asked me I’d say you’d be better off as atheists.” Then I start walking down the street.
Just at the edge of their property a flashy red sports car pulls into the yard of the corner house next to the farmhouse and parks in the middle of the front yard facing the street. It’s a convertible and sitting in the front seats are too young attractive guys who do nothing but sit there talking to each other. Suddenly the whole area is filled with crowds of people watching the two and photographers snapping away. I would much rather avoid the whole thing but I can’t- I have to walk right through the crowd to head home so I keep going on down the sidewalk – round the corner and in front of the house. There is a wall between the sidewalk and yard where the yard is much higher than the street- so everyone was looking over me to see the two guys anyway- which was fine by me. I started home.
In my pocket was a “Cup-o-noodles”. I had no water or any way of heating it up but I was really hungry so I broke off a piece of dry noodle and crunched it as I walked home.
And here I must clarify- I’m not talking about movies about stoners or hippies or drug culture (although a few of them make this list). I’m talking about movies that definitely transport the viewer into a deeper, possibly psychedelic but definitely altered state of mind. You could think of them as movies to watch while you’re already in an altered state, but some of them are disturbing enough without help. Perhaps the best way to put it would be: Movies that transcend the here and now and inspire a shifted perspective or at the very least leave you with a “what just happened?” kind of feeling.
1- Institute Benjamenta (1995)
Directed by The Brothers Quay The first full-length live-action feature from the famed twins so well known for their gorgeous dream-like stop-motion animated short films. A new student enrolls in a school for servants. A student that might change things forever. This is not a film to watch late at night or if you’re tired. It’s incredible in every possible way- engrossing, fascinating and stunningly beautiful- but it is slow and quiet and so dreamy that you (as I did) might find yourself thinking you are asleep just to suddenly realize you actually are. This is a truly unique and breath-taking vision, but brew a fresh pot of coffee before you start it.
2- Faust (1994) (“Lekce Faust” original Czech title)
Directed by Jan Svankmajer Part live action, part animation, part puppet theater, all surreal, all pure genius. This one is high up on my all-time list as well. Svankmajer hands us the classic tragedy of a man selling his soul to the devil wrapped in a mantle of symbolic surrealism, wicked humor and a healthy dose of satire. Filled with esoteric characters, train-of-thought plotline and wonderfully disturbing visuals- this is a ride I never turn down.
3- Fantastic Planet (1973) (“La Planète sauvage” original French title)
Directed by Rene Laloux A surreal animated masterpiece. We visit a world where humans are mere rodents compared to the giant inhabitants that think of them as toys or pests. Our heroes fight to survive using stolen knowledge in a world of strange malicious creatures and even stranger beauty. There has never been and most likely never will be another film anything like this one, but we can keep hoping.
4- Delicatessen (1991)
Directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet An apartment building in a vaguely post-apocalyptic wasteland houses an assortment of colorful eccentrics and one grizzly secret. Caro and Jeunet are masters of texture in every sense- visuals, characters, plot, dialog and even sound. Delightful and delicious from start to finish. I could watch this movie for weeks and never stop smiling.
5- El Topo (1970)
Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky A gunman and his son on a quest in the Mexican desert turns into anything but a simple western. Brutal and enigmatic. This is an epic tale that goes from pathos through mysticism to salvation in a bitingly satirical world of mindless passion and consuming apathy. It asks big questions and gives no answers, and the journey is pure magic. Incidentally, this was one of John Lennon’s favorite movies.
6- Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Directed by David Lynch It’s a good thing I like movies that let you take out of it what you will because this jewel is filled with Lynch’s trademark unanswered questions and seemingly unrelated confusion. As with most of his films you’re never quite sure why it works- but it does. I love unsolved mysteries and this is the proverbial riddle wrapped in an enigma. Naomi Watts demonstrates the true depth of her acting ability. Don’t worry so much about getting it- just enjoy the ride.
7- Tideland (2005)
Directed by Terry Gilliam Most of you aren’t ready for this film. I wasn’t. It’s perhaps the most disturbing film I’ve ever seen. But it’s not so much the situations that disturb you. It’s that you can never quite reconcile your own revulsion with the child who just doesn’t see it and wants to play. It speaks so strongly to that child within all of us even while our adult minds scream out in disgust. This is the real genius of Terry Gilliam and writer Mitch Cullin. It’s a beautiful, uplifting tale in its own way, but be warned. The rating for this one says it all: “Rated R for bizarre and disturbing content, including drug use, sexuality, and gruesome situations – all involving a child.”
8- The Cook, The Theif, His Wife and Her Lover (1989)
Directed by Peter Greenaway A viscous tale of adultery and oppression, jealousy and revenge. A dirge for smoldering yearning passion. Greenaway’s imagery and filmmaking are second to none and the incredible performances from Michael Gambon and Helen Mirren make this a truly unforgettable film. This is a meaty dark fairy tale for adults dripping in sweet rich sauce that just might have been sitting a little too long.
9- All of the Brothers Quay short films
Directed by The Brothers Quay Yes, I know, these aren’t movies, but they deserve a spot here all the same. Timothy and Stephen Quay are the undisputed masters of the art of stop-motion animation and even without their formidable skills they would still be film-makers of uncanny grace and depth. Their films come from that quiet place in the back of your head that can only be seen at 4am through the window of a dream and I could never thank them enough for sharing them with the world.
10- The Wall (1982)
Directed by Alan Parker I wasn’t sure if I should include this one. But even being a rock-opera it’s still one of the most powerful films I’ve ever seen. Of course, it helps that I’m a huge Pink Floyd fan, but what really makes this film is the raw emotion of Bob Geldof’s unbelievable performance and the rare combination of live-action and traditional animation that actually works without being hokey. Many have credited this film as the father of the music video but there have been thousands of music videos since this film that never came close to its power and beauty. Sure- it’s dark, cold, depressing, angry and insane but it’s a masterpiece.
11- Eraserhead (1977)
Directed by David Lynch Here is yet another one of the most disturbing films ever created. An inept and unwilling character becomes trapped as the father of an inhuman creature. The true culmination of David Lynch’s short film vision. More than little hard to watch. It will definitely haunt you, but it’s well worth the experience and a brilliant demonstration of his ability to transport the viewer into his sick little world. This one might scar you but it’s a scar you’ll be proud to have.
12- Zardoz (1974)
Directed by John Boorman This has always been one of my favorites. I first encountered it on acid at a party and watched it at least three times that night. I had no idea what it was about or what was going on, but I never wanted it to stop. Later, when I watched it with a slightly clearer head, I found I liked it even more. Post apocalyptic but with that cerebral feel that only the early 70s could deliver. It might seem corny and campy on the surface especially to modern eyes, but if you give yourself to it, it will open doors to places you never thought you’d go. Sean Connery is incredible as the seemingly brute warrior unaware of his true purpose in a world where a few elite humans have attained immortality and enslaved the rest of the world for their own ends. The storytelling is compelling and engaging in a way that both demands and awards your attention. The profound social commentary exemplifies what science fiction can achieve when thought is made more important than flashy action and unnecessary spectacle. That being said, this is one film I would love to see remade with modern effects as long as the feel remains consistent.
13- Brazil (1985)
Directed by Terry Gilliam Few films can hope to achieve the cult status of Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece. This is the first time we really get to see the true scope of his incredible vision. His art and sensibility come shining through at last to reward the viewer with a deep journey into an Orwellian yet colorful world where one man dreams of simple freedom. It speaks to us in the same way that 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 did but without giving us nightmares. Jonathan Pryce is positively brilliant and a supporting cast including Ian Holm, Robert De Niro, Bob Hoskins and Michael Palin doesn’t hurt either. Problematic because of all the different versions of the film, it is recommended that you only bother with Gilliam’s approved final edit.
14- Freaks (1932)
Directed by Tom Browning Controversial during its time and banned until fairly recently, this is actually a fairly simple story of love and betrayal, but takes place entirely amongst a group of circus sideshow freaks. The controversy, of course, entirely surrounded the performers in the movie who were all actual sideshow performers, with various deformities and conditions. The true value of this film lies in the ability of the film to make you see the performers as people not as freaks. Obviously the performers are not the best trained actors and their performances range greatly but in a way it just adds to this movie’s charm. For some this will be very hard to watch but I found it much less disturbing than I thought it would be.
15- The Science of Sleep (2006) (“La Science des rêves” original French title)
Directed by Michel Gondry This has to be my favorite love story of all time. A young man who lives more in the dream world than the waking world meets the one woman who could truly appreciate him and almost screws it up. It’s funny, touching, beautiful, dreamy and leaves you with a warm smile on your face. It’s delightfully awkward even in the editing but it’s still damn near the perfect date movie.
16- Memento (2000)
Directed by Christopher Nolan Presented in a fashion that forces the viewer to feel the anguish of a person who cannot form new memories trying desperately to find the man who murdered his wife and caused his condition. This is much more than just a film. Christopher Nolan’s second feature film is a treatise on how much a man is defined by his ability to remember. Driven by ironically memorable performances from Guy Pearce and Joe Pantoliano, this is definitely a movie that makes you think and in my book that’s the highest compliment I can possibly give.
17- Fight Club (1999)
Directed by David Fincher If you haven’t seen Fight Club you need to go see it right now. Now. Quit reading and go. You can read the rest of this later.But really, David Fincher did a brilliant job adapting Chuck Palahniuk’s enigmatic novel to the screen and the genius of Brad Pitt and Edward Norton sweep the viewer away into a labyrinth of doubting psychology. Add to that a sharp, witty design sense and an unflinching look at the danger of unchecked neurosis and you have a recipe for one landmark, cult film.
18- Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
Directed by Adrian Lyne This for me is one of the scariest films I’ve ever seen. Tim Robbins always has the power of making the audience truly identify with him and that quality makes this film hit even harder. Upon returning home from Vietnam he gets a job as a postman and slowly his reality begins to unravel leaving the viewer completely uncertain about his fate and acutely feeling his genuine fear of the possibility that nothing is what it seems. A dark film that’s a little hard to take, but very worth the chill.
19- The Fountain (2006)
Directed by Darren Aronofsky First off- this film will break your heart. I balled and balled, but even through all the tears I marveled at the almost indescribable beauty of not just the images, but the stories as well. It’s worth the heartache. If you’ve seen any of Darren Aronofsky’s films, you know you’re going to be more than a little disturbed by what you see, but this one is disturbing in a very different way. Three different stories using the same actors (incarnations?) explore man’s inability to accept mortality with three very different results. Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz both deliver deeply moving performances. I’ve always respected Darren’s ability as a director but now I found myself positively anxious to see his next film.
20- Walkabout (1971)
Directed by Nicolas Roeg A girl and her younger brother become stranded in the outback of Australia and end up on a journey they could’ve never foreseen. Not only is this an engaging and incredible film in its own right, but it beautifully illustrates how much the treatment of film has changed over the last 40 years. So many of the themes in this movie would not be allowed to be done today, not because they’re disturbing or criminal (even though some almost are), but because Hollywood has become convinced that no one’s interested in reality. (And no- Reality TV is not real. Not remotely.) This film is genuine- it is real- it stings and provides no explanation or remorse and for that reason alone anyone who gets the chance should see it.
21- 12 Monkeys (1995)
Directed by Terry Gilliam Behold one of the few rare modern-day examples of thinking man’s science fiction. A circular plot and questionable outcome, trademark cerebral sci-fi elements, power this wonderfully deep character study of a man sent back in time supposedly to save the world. Bruce Willis proves that he’s much more than just an action hero and Brad Pitt succeeds in making us wonder just how sane he is. But it’s really the storytelling that shines the most in this anxious and suspicious tale of fate. If Brazil wasn’t enough to convince you of Gilliam’s genius this one definitely will.
22- 1984 (1984)
Directed by Michael Radford Dark and oppressed is the name of the game, but is there any other way you could depict George Orwell’s 1984? John Hurt is award-winningly crestfallen in that moving way that only he can pull off and Richard Burton really makes us believe that he’s conflicted about torturing those who dare to think for themselves or worst yet love, but the real star of the show is the production design and art direction. Never before have we been introduced, much less transported, into a world so completely devoid of hope- so bled dry of color and life that the wrinkled skin of an old prostitute looks like a mother’s warm embrace. Also noteworthy is the moving score by the Eurythmics. This is definitely not an uplifting film, that is to say with the exception of the fact that after watching it anything looks better.
23- The Valley (1972) (“La Vallée” original French title)
Directed by Barbet Schroeder This is what I think of when I think of a ‘hippie movie’. It’s not really about being a hippie, well not the way most of us actually were, or are, but more a tale that any hippie would love to watch if they couldn’t experience it for themselves. Five young freethinkers head out on an expedition to find the mysterious “Valley” obscured by clouds in the uncharted New Guinea wilderness. Along the way they deal with altered states, sexual freedom, infidelity and the aboriginal locals. It’s definitely not the best movie you are ever going to see, but it’s beautifully filmed, contains tons of genuine emotion and a soundtrack by Pink Floyd doesn’t hurt either even if it’s not their best work. So get yourself a bottle of wine, some fruit and crackers, pack a nice bong, sit back and enjoy the ride. A warning to modern-day viewers: back in the early 70s they weren’t as squeamish about ritualized animal slaughter as they are today and there were no organizations concerned with the prevention of cruelty to animals on screen so if that sort of thing bothers you close your eyes when you see the locals handling pigs and don’t open them until a few minutes after the squealing stops or better yet have a friend to tap your shoulder so you can cover your ears to.
24- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
Directed by Terry Gilliam Hunter S. Thompson was a genius. Terry Gilliam is a genius and Johnny Depp is a genius. So Johnny Depp playing Hunter S. Thompson being directed by Terry Gilliam equals, say it with me now- genius. A fairly faithful adaptation of the hilarious and profoundly touching novel this movie turns out to be so much more than the sum of its parts. This is one of the few examples I give to people who have never done drugs, don’t want to do drugs, but are curious what it’s like as pretty close to the real thing without the hangover and withdraw. Add to that the stunning performances from both Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro and you have a road movie that’s an absolute trip in every sense of the word.
25- The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain (2001) (“Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain” original French title)
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet Here’s another one that doubles as an incredible date movie. A young beautiful girl with an uncanny knack for changing people’s lives almost misses her chance to change her own. Jeunet brings his ample experience to this fable and populates it with his trademark gorgeous visuals and eccentric characters. This is a place you definitely want to go and stay. I still smile just thinking about it.
26- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Directed by Michel Gondry One the more fascinating concept movies to ever attempt to deal with the idea of memory and how much it defines our world. This is the classic tale of “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” taken to its logical limit. The editing deliberately keeps the viewer off balance but the reveal is more than worth the extra effort. Kate Winslet showcases the depth of her talent and not since The Truman Show as Jim Carrey been quite this real. Comedy might be his normal bag but this kid can act. Moving and powerful and quite funny at times this is what all movies should aspire to.
27- A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick One of Kubrick’s many masterpieces. Brutal is an understatement. The term ultraviolence, coined by the novel, is closer to the truth. But that’s just the beginning of this karmic tale of apathetic mayhem and retribution gone awry. Without Malcolm McDowell this movie would’ve never been what it is, but it’s Kubrick’s masterful storytelling that really makes this a cult classic it is. The legends about this movie are legion, but no amount of commentary could hope to compare to the actual experience. This is one instance where you just have to see it.
28- The City of Lost Children (1995) (“La Cité des enfants perdus” original French title)
Directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet If there’s one thing that Caro and Jeunet are the undisputed masters of, it’s the fable-like dark fantasy. Taking a nod from the science fiction of the 20s and 30s and infusing their own distinctive style they give us the tale of a circus strongman and his little brother in the wrong place at the wrong time pulled into a dark web where fantasy, sci-fi and the surreal meet. Filled with stunningly executed old-school special effects and rich impressionistic visuals, this is a fairytale for connoisseurs. Ron Perlman never disappoints on the haunting soundtrack from Angelo Badalamenti transcends and mesmerizes.
29- The Fall (2006)
Directed by Tarsem Singh Moving and bittersweet, this fairy tale within a drama showcases some of the most beautiful visuals ever put on film. A young girl in the hospital of the 1930s is befriended by a bed ridden patient who spins a yarn to distract her from his real purpose, but the two stories intermingle and many lines are blurred. This is definitely a tearjerker, but you’ll be wiping away the tears quick to make sure you don’t miss the next gorgeous frame.
30- Altered States (1980)
Directed by Ken Russell This has always been a favorite of mine. William Hurt plays a scientist obsessed with pushing the outer limits of the altered state experience regardless of the cost. Employing various drugs in sensory deprivation tanks he explores the depths of the mind until the discovery of a new hallucinogen and his own passions drive him past the point of no return. The effects were praised in their day but are definitely dated now, although the trippy feel of the film remains quite effective.
31- What Dreams May Come (1998)
Directed by Vincent Ward Robin Williams forgoes his comedy roots in a role that’s anything but funny. He plays a doctor who years after losing both of his children in a car accident loses his wife to suicide and shortly thereafter dies in a car crash himself. Heaven turns out to be quite an amazing experience but nothing compared to the challenge of attempting to rescue his wife from her own personal hell. Uplifting in many ways but on the whole depressing, the one thing this movie excels at is the unbelievable visuals. With the exception of a few unfortunate Road Warrior style scenes the rendering of both heaven and hell are breathtaking to say the least.
32- Alice (1988) (“Neco z Alenky” original Czech title)
Directed by Jan Svankmajer I would refer to this one as a guilty pleasure. Being moderately obsessed with Alice in Wonderland and a huge fan of Svankmajer’s work it’s almost a given that I would love this film. And a good 90% of it I most definitely do. Almost entirely in stop-motion animation, this is a very loose, spooky and at times disturbing version of the Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece. Although not so much nightmarish as just odd, it’s still way too dark for the kiddies. As is characteristic of most of Svankmajer’s work this Wonderland is entirely within the confines of a decrepit old, possibly abandoned, house that seems to go on forever and Alice, when she’s little anyway, is an animated doll. When she’s big she’s played by a young actress and the counterpoint is fascinating. Most of this film is a joy, but I have a hard time getting around Alice’s constantly interrupting narration. I know it seems odd to focus on one thing like that but it is throughout most of the film and, for me, it constantly breaks the spell that I don’t want broken. Perhaps I’m just too picky, or maybe it’s just frustrating being just one hurdle from perfection, but once you learn to tune out the narration bits this film is the twisted daydream that Alice in Wonderland was always supposed to be.
33- Naked Lunch (1991)
Directed by David Cronenberg An ode to paranoid delusion. This is not a strict adaptation of the banned train-of-thought classic by William S. Burroughs. It’s a combination of the novel and biographical bits of Burroughs’ life. Both tales are equally odd and the result is a trip deep into one man’s loosing battle against paranoia, and drug-addiction. When you reach the point of being paranoid about being paranoid, then next step is madness. Completely engaging in every way with incredible performances from Peter Weller and Ian Holm, this one starts on the verge of a dream and ends so deep that you’ve forgotten what reality was supposed to be. It contains drug use, homosexuality and very nightmarish imagery but still manages to have style and class. However, I will leave you with a word of warning: This is an incredible film, but on drugs it can be especially disturbing to some. So ask yourself this question- Am I ready to accept a half-typewriter/half-cockroach thing speaking to me through an anus on its back, and if I am, am I ready to accept that while on drugs.
February 18th, 1998. 9:20 AM Baltimore.
This morning my alarm went off at 7:30. I had to be at work at 9. As I turned it off, I turned on my desk light and my CD player, which just happened to have Soundgarden in it. I laid back down with the intention of waking up slowly, and, of course, fell right back to sleep. All of this I did half asleep anyway, so being pulled back to my interrupted dreams was no great surprise.
Where I went once I was back in my dream was.
Suddenly I was going down Valley Forge Road, toward Main Street from the High School in my hometown of Lansdale. Or, at least, for some reason I knew it was that place, but it failed to resemble the place entirely. I don’t know if I was driving or walking or what, but that didn’t matter, because what I was seeing filled every ounce of my soul.
The most beautiful homes I had ever seen, half hidden tantalizingly behind untended evergreens and shrubs. All Victorian and Turn-of-the-Century, dripping with ornament from head to toe. Blanketed by a light, summer morning mist.
Although they were completely empty of people, these were not just houses, these were homes. Places that had been loved and loved in return. Each with its own stories to tell. Each a unique kingdom inviting me in to explore it’s mysteries and taste its wonders. But I didn’t enter yet.
I traveled down streets lined with homes, each more beautiful than the last, and each failing to compare with the majesty of the others. All were different, having their own character, their own style, their own magnificence. Each door a gateway to another world, another time. Each window speaking in a silent symphony of memories. I have always thought that houses had souls, more so than most humans. They love and forgive unconditionally. They remember and they know. If there is a God, His name is Home.
As I looked around, enthralled and overcome by the endless beauty, I looked up to see that the town had a roof. A ceiling, four stories up, was supported by the taller and stockier homes. At regular intervals there were skylights, 20 foot square. The ceiling was painted white, but next to the brilliant areas of light it looked a pale grayish sky blue.
As is usually the case in my dreams, there was not a single person to be found, anywhere, and there wouldn’t be until my sub-conscience allowed it. But, regardless, I knew someone had built the roof to protect the homes from weather and time. I thanked them from the depth of my heart. I thanked them for giving me this place; for letting me enter what truly is the most sacred spot of my soul. I drank the beauty. The light mist continued, and would never leave. There was a slight heat, as on a hazy summer morning soon to become hot. But the heat never became uncomfortable, and never would.
The houses sat on beds of grass and fern, but I seldom looked down. I saw a huge home, all sharp angles and steep roofs, covered with windows, each with a triangular roof of its own. It was entirely painted a wet black, and above its fourth floor it was connected directly to the ceiling. Somehow I knew it did not continue beyond.
One thing I did know, while standing there in awe, was that none of these homes existed presently, in the waking world. Maybe they had existed once, or perhaps the whole thing was the construct of some discarded Victorian dream that I had the good fortune of happening upon. I don’t know and I didn’t care.
Perhaps because I could not decide which home to enter, I was suddenly in one. Which one I do not know, but I was inside.
Warm in color and feel, friendly and inviting like the home of a loved one or a good friend. Grand. Not grand in the rich snob manner. That grand is shallow and infinitely more fragile than it looks. This was a true grandeur, made up of wisdom and character and love. The house was empty now, but the memories of the full bookshelves and fascinating trinkets, paintings framed by golden fire and furniture built for comfort and grace were more tangible than the bare walls and peeling paint could hope to be. I gave myself to the memory, and it was real. All the feel of life returned along with all the details of living. A half-full ashtray on a pile of magazines hiding an end table between two worn couches. The soft glow of warm light seen through Tiffany shades. Lace filtered sunlight forming dusty beams that crossed the rooms. The smell of pipe smoke and light perfume.
The sound of friend’s voices in joyful conversation drifted from one of the rooms deeper in the house. I went there and was greeted by hugs and playful inquiries into where I had been. People I had never met were old friends, happy to see me. I lost myself in the moment and never wanted to be found. This was where I belonged. Home. After many playful conversations, and more exploring of a house that seemed a labyrinth filled with wonder and joy, I came to the back of the house. A crowd of friends, some old, some new, all familiar, were making merry. Above all the talk and confusion I felt the house thank me for letting it relive some of its lost joy. I thanked it in return, and was pulled away from the crowd a beautiful woman who had a question I never got to hear. As she pulled me away I was looking for a place to put out my cigarette and not finding one. Foolishly, I tried to flick it over the crowd and ended up hitting someone’s wristwatch, which came apart and fell to the ground.
I guess I should be thankful for the embarrassment. It woke me up with enough time to make a cup of coffee, throw on some cloths, smoke a cigarette and make it to work only ten minutes late.
The second I got to work (the pathetically easy job of monitor in a computer lab where the computers were originally assembled by Brontosauruses) I started writing this all down for fear the dream would soon become naught but half felt glimpses, as most dreams do, if not disappear from memory altogether.
I guess I should fall asleep listening to Soundgarden more often.