TURN ON, TUNE IN, DROP OUT (1967).
First off, I was definitely in the incorrect frame of mind to watch this legendary Timothy Leary performance film, which first brought his pro-LSD message to the silver (and, to most of his tripped-out fans, throbbing and dripping) screen. To prepare, you should smoke a little weed, or better yet, drop a tab. Instead, I saw an afternoon showing, on a blazing hot day, with a raging hangover. Oops. And though previous descriptions say it's nearly feature length, the print screened by NYC's Film Forum clocked in at barely an hour. So that's what I'm going on, until somebody tells me otherwise... Filmed at the Village Theatre in Manhattan's East Village, this Henry G. Saperstein production gives us Leary's psychic celebration in all its pretentious glory. It also includes a cheesy disclaimer which promises it's not promoting the use of LSD. Yeah, right. That's coming from a movie that tells us we need to "go out of our minds, to come to our senses." Leary warns us, "This is not an entertainment. It is our public religious service." Actually, it's more like one long, on-stage monologue which will give acid nay sayers the urge to take a long piss on the screen. Welcome to the Wit and Wisdom of Timothy Leary, as he sits cross-legged, surrounded by candles, while musicians provide mood-inducing guitar, sitar, venna, and tabla. We get a prayer, a history of religious drug use, and a tour "down the long protein ladder of memory." Meanwhile, on the center screen, psychedelic visuals are projected, to enhance the experience, and (as Leary puts it in his '83 bio, FLASHBACKS) "to activate the archetype circuits of the brain." Of course, in order to "Turn on" you'll need a sacrament, and "today our sacrament is a chemical," thanks to the wonders of modern chemistry. Obviously,this "Sacrament" has been hard at work on Leary's own head... This is Leary in his prime, and instead of the usual sound bites of his philosophy, here we get one long, uninterrupted dose. Acting as a guide on our "voyage of discovery," he certainly needs to lighten up a little, especially when throwing out his loopier notions. Like how kids don't care about fancy cars anymore -- instead, it's one's "vibrations." Plus a discussion of the "menopausal mind," and the story of Ralph ("who is us"), searching for meaning on the Lower East Side. Unfortunately, the filmmakers never cut to the audience, because I would've loved to have seen just how tripped out they looked... He's a Buddha. He's a Mutant. He's a charismatic Shaman, with his groovy rap slowly wearing at your defenses. It's too bad that director Robin Clark didn't do more to keep us visually amused, instead of his unimaginative, 3-camera shoot. Still, this is a fantastic artifact, as well as the flip-side of the cheesy, anti-drug, "educational" films which I suffered through in junior high.
© 1996 by Steven Puchalski.