[Marxism] David Walsh Doesn't Get "A Scanner Darkly"
altman_d at hotmail.com
Tue Jul 18 16:23:31 MDT 2006
I often enjoy David Walsh's film reviews on the World Socialist Web Site,
and heaven knows we need moreleftist arts critics, but for every time Walsh
hits the mark, he writes another review that's simply clueless, a good
example being the following.
For what it's worth, I just LOVED "A Scanner Darkly." It doesn't have
pretensions of being a deep political staement; it's just the best, and
truest, adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story yet. I had my doubts about
Richard Linklater's animation technique at first, but it's well-suited to
the mood of the book. The sequences revolving around the paranoia and
pontless chit-chat of the burned-out stoner characters are bitterly funny
(Dick was writing from personal experience here.) Unfortunately, some stuff
from the book had to be left out, including Dick's dead-on depiction of
certain soul-destoying drug-rehabilitation techniques (the drug-rehab outfit
New Path in the book and movie is modeled on Synanon, a sinister cultish
organization that was big in the seventies and is still around).
Walsh also reviews "Strangers With Candy," which I haven't seen yet. All I
can say is that it's half as funny as the TV show, which aired for three
years on Comedy Central, it's well worth your $10 or whatever you spend down
at the local multiplex.
WSWS : Arts Review : Film Reviews Glancing blows: A Scanner Darkly and
Strangers with Candy By David Walsh
18 July 2006
A Scanner Darkly, directed by Richard Linklater, based on the novel by
Philip K. Dick;
Strangers With Candy, directed by Paul Dinello, written by Dinello, Amy
Sedaris and Stephen Colbert
In director Richard Linklaters A Scanner Darkly, based on the 1977 science
fiction novel by Philip K. Dick, a powerful drugSubstance D (as in
Death)has taken hold in the US seven years from now. Twenty percent of
the population is addicted. The authorities are using the drug epidemic as
an excuse to step up surveillance and control of the population. A giant
corporation, New Path, seems to be manipulating the situation for profit.
Robert Arctor (Keanu Reeves) lives in a household of drug users, including
James Barris (Robert Downey Jr.) and Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson).
Another cohort is Charles Freck (Rory Cochrane), whose addiction has led to
psychosis; Arctors dealer and girl-friend, Donna Hawthorne (Winona
Ryder), has reached the point in her unraveling where she doesnt like to be
Arctor has another, competing identity, as an undercover policeman, Officer
Fred, dressed in a scramble suit that conceals his identity, who gets
assigned to spy on his own household in hope of finding the source of the
The film has two central preoccupations, recreating the atmosphere of a
certain type of drug-dominated community (Philip Dick, according to one
commentator, lived semi-communally with a rotating group of mostly teenaged
drug users at his home in Marin County in the early 1970s, during which
time he became entirely dependent on amphetamines) and commenting on the
growth of police powers and abilities to monitor peoples lives and
In regard to the first concern, Linklater told an interviewer for Filmmaker
magazine, When I read Scanner, I intuitively felt that it was probably his
[Dicks] most personal work. It felt like he had lived this world, [the
characters] felt like every roommate he had and half the roommates I had at
a certain time in my life. It felt very familiar, the way you just sort of
end up around people. You can see how that house became a kind of crash
pad. One group moved outhis familyand another group, these neer-do-wells,
move in. Its fun for a while, but then it spins out of control.
The question is, 20 or 30 years after the fact, why should this circumstance
be of any great interest to anyone? The drug counterculture, despite its
pretensions, never produced anything of insight or lasting value. It merely
generated its own specific set of delusions and diversions. It was
disturbing, and tedious, to observe in the 1970s and remains so some decades
later. Why does Linklater insist on returning to this worn-out subject?
Presumably, in some fashion, he remains a bit nostalgic for that earlier
epoch. Even if the scene is treated in a critical, even unflattering
fashion here, it remains a central theme.
As I noted several years ago about Linklaters Waking Life, These people
simply do not impress in any shape or fashion. It all feels like something
that might have been fresh and even daring in the latter days of the Reagan
administration. A good deal of water has flowed over the dam since then.
As for the filmmakers treatment of a vaguely authoritarian regime in power
in the near future, he makes clear in interviews that this refers to the
present situation in the US under Bush and company. Linklater told the same
interviewer: Dick wrote this paranoid future, and my premise with the movie
was that we are living in science fiction now. This is the paranoid
future.... Theres always a time to be a little paranoid about your
government, but I think thats hit another peak today. If you put a peak in
a chart during the Nixon era, I think were at another little peak in the
graph, a spike up, today in the Bush administration. What he was writing
about, which we would term paranoia, well, you just wait a generation and
paranoia becomes reality quite often.
The hostility toward the Bush administration and its police-state ambitions
is legitimate and no doubt deeply felt, but it is not particularly well
developed in A Scanner Darkly. Dicks concern with drugs, personality and
paranoia feels dated; how does its inclusion help clarify our present
reality? The drug question merely confuses the issue. Frankly, the
activities of Arctors circle, their general disorientation and often
downright nastiness, blunt the criticism of police spying. The film hardly
rises to the level of a serious warning about the dangers of a police-state.
Animation, in my view, should be preserved for the genuinely outlandish and
fantastic. Here it simply distracts and detracts. I would much prefer to see
not the wavy outlines of the actors faces, but the faces themselves.
Linklater is a sincere and humane individual, but he continues to tread
water, and not the most fascinating or freshest water at that. He needs to
recognize: the radicalism and counterculture of the 1970s exhausted itself a
good many years ago. It cannot be revived. Something different is needed
today, something far more deep-going and complicated. In the first place, if
the filmmaker turned his attention to a serious study of history and
politics, in my opinion, it would help his art.
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