July 17, 2006

"A Scanner Darkly."

I hadn't gone out to a movie theater, I think, since last December January. (The movie was "Capote.") I'd been considering various movies but never quite got sufficiently motivated until today. It's not just that I wanted to see "A Scanner Darkly." It's that it was also disgustingly hot out, and that pushed me over the edge.

I love Richard Linklater -- the director -- mostly from "Slacker," which will always be one of my very favorite movies. And I'm interested in Philip K. Dick enough to care. I also like flat animation a lot, even thought Linklater's watery, flow-y rotoscoped style, which I'd seen in "Waking Life," is not my favorite thing. But that was enough. I finally went to the movies.

I took some folded up notebook paper in case I wanted to write down quotes for a blog post. Here, let me put this through my scanner (darkly):

notes from

The word "bigs" is supposed to be "bugs." I wrote that during the first scene, which was harrowing... and involved bugs. I forgot I'd already written on that side of the fold when I wrote down a sentence from a long conversation three hopeless Substance D addicts had about a guy who wanted to be an imposter -- like the guy Leonardo DiCaprio played in "Catch Me If You Can" -- but he figured out he could just be an imposter imposter: "You could just pose as an imposter, it would be a lot easier."

Despite the seeming charm of that, this is not a film that finds drug use cute. It's very hallucinatory, so it's most likely to draw in an audience that is interested in drugs, but it is devastatingly antidrug, to the point where it made me feel guilty for writing that post last week about psilocybin. Just say no, kids, or you will be scrounging around in the dirt of an endless cornfield trying to pick the little blue flowers of death.

The film was quite brilliant, and if you think about it hard you can figure out what happened. Presumably, it helps to have read the book, which I haven't. It would probably be more enjoyable the second time for me, to notice all the details now that I understand the story.

While I've got the scanner fired up and receiving my handwritten notes, here are the (extensive!) notes I made for podcast #55:


They seem hallucinatory in the afterglow of "A Scanner Darkly."


Johnny Nucleo said...

I like Linkletter, but I haven't seen "A Scanner Darkly." I did see "Superman Returns." In it, Superman returns.

I haven't seen "Waking Life" either. My gut reaction to the rotoscope technique is "I don't like it." My question about it - which of course could be answered if I saw the films - is, "Is it integral?" If it is, then I like it. If it isn't, I wonder "Why do it then? Is it a gimmick? If the film works without it, what's the point? If it doesn't work without it, does the film work at all?"

It's like "Rope." "Rope" is ostensibly a one shot film. (It really isn't.) But what was the point? I think the film would have worked fine with cuts. Because it is one shot, the whole time you're thinking. "Wow. This is one shot." You shouldn't be thinking that. You should be thinking, "There's a dead guy in the trunk!"

Which reminds me. In "Superman Returns," the action sequences are beautiful and spectacular, but I kept thinking, "That's really good CGI." But the CGI was cool. And integral.

One could say, "What's the point of beautiful cinematography if the film works without it?"

I should probably see the films.

Marghlar said...

The rotoscopy technique worked very well for this film, by allowing perception to be very fluid. It could veer from the almost cinemotagraphic, to the highly stylized, without jarring the viewer. Worked well for a film about a hallucinating protagonist.

I did feel that Linklater rushed through the last third of the book, especially the rehab stuff. It was a much bigger part of the book, and I'm not sure it worked as well in the movie.

But overall, the best Dick adaptation I've ever seen (and his books have received more than their share of film adaptations). Blade Runner was good, but this was truer to the book.

HD_Wanderer said...

I haven't been to a theater since... 98 maybe? "A Scanner Darkly" does look interesting though.

I like the scanned notes, have you read Gaping Void?

Ben Masel said...

The Phillip K Dick synchronicity factor...

I read "Scanner" in 1977, finishing it on the cab ride to my Atty's office in Alexandria, VA. Marvin Miller had me wait while he took a discovery call from the Assistant US Attorney prosecuting another of his cases, against one Truong Din Hung, accused of spying for the Vietnamese.

The AUSA informed Miller that President Carter had authorised the first known fiber-optic videotap placed against Truong, citing "inherent Presidential authority."

This authority was upheld against supression motions in the trial court and 4th Circuit, inspirng the FISA Act. The Bush Justice Dept. now relies on the Truong precedent to justify the recently revealed NSA spying.

Maxine Weiss said...

You have to stay within the lines.

I flunked cursive, but even I know that.

You're slipping. You didn't tell us about the pen: Mark Cross or Mont Blanc?

I love the gold Cross pens in the velvet pen boxes.

Not Bic, hopefully.

Their refillable inks get dry and gunky!

Peace, Maxine

Madison Guy said...

The rotoscopy not only did a nice job of conveying a hallucinatory feeling, but it also beautifully represented the cops’ identity-cloaking devices, which would have been hard to do convincingly with CGI. Robert Downey Jr. gave a terrific -- and funny -- performance. His character’s fractured consciousness seemed to carry over to his interview in the Onion.

Mike Wallster said...

This is interesting...the website IGN is showing the first 24 minutes of the movie.

Jeff said...

"A Scanner Darkly" is perhaps Dick's finest novel. It addresses many of his favorite themes and deploys the SF elements in the service of the story.

Dick was a great but uneven writer. Some of his books were written within a few weeks in order to keep the wolf away from the door. Even his sketchiest books have merit, while his best books are truly wonderful.

Dick wrote wonderful stories and novels with fine, even excellent prose, but here and there the writing will peak and a line, a paragraph, even a page or two will absolutely shine. At that moment the essence of the story being told will suddenly crystalize. Read from different angles, the overarching themes and hidden undercurrents will be revealed in absolute clarity, but in an indirect way. There are no cliches, no obvious symbolism, just an alchemical transformation of words on paper into human emotion and soul.

Something I've never noticed in Linklater's self-congratulating work.

Ann Althouse said...

I'd just like to say I love the Philip K. Dick book "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch." The drugs were Can-D and Chew-Z, and playing with something like Barbie Dolls is involved. I read it more than 30 years ago, so the story would be a complete surprise to me if I read it again.

Marghlar said...

Something I've never noticed in Linklater's self-congratulating work.

I've never been a fan, either -- but this one worked well.

Steve H. said...

Is the quality of that handwriting in any way related to your psilocybin post?

Ann Althouse said...

Steve and Maxine don't seem to remember that movies are shown in the dark! You try writing legible notes blindly.

Marghlar said...

Steve and Maxine don't seem to remember that movies are shown in the dark! You try writing legible notes blindly.

The perennial complaint of film critics everywhere.