Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ang Lee’s Acid Trip

Taking Woodstock is a pleasantly cheerful if brainless film which I won’t bother to review here. Of course this is just San Francisco hubris speaking, since the counterculture events described in the movie were going on here for at least three years before the East Coast finally caught on and had its tiny little burst of glory.

Every aspect of hippie stereotyping is pictured in Ang Lee’s movie—including a walk-on by Gen. Waste-more-land!— but what struck me most was the acid trip that the reluctant but pliable hero undergoes. Dosed in the back of a VW camper bus by a hippie couple from California with what looks like Blue Cheer on a blotter, he sees swirly things emerging from the cheap India bedspreads and faux tantric mandalas before luxuriating in some intersexual body rubs. Next the psychonauts emerge from the camper bus to observe the Woodstock concert stage in the distance, which subsequently whirls around in a cyclonic display of electrical energy before it takes off into the sky like a spaceship and dissolves into pure white light.

Given the stupidity of trying to re-imagine psychotropic drug experiences in films—I may need to revise my opinion after seeing Avatar 3D—I do wonder at what point these silly cliché representations begin to get mistaken for finished historical truth. I too have seen the paisleys leaping, and I quickly learned that a trip without an orgasm is a trip wasted, and I’ve had my share of visions, like anyone else.

But that’s not the point. The take-home from LSD is that because our brains, in the interests of survival, are constructed in such a way that we can all experience reality the same way, doesn’t mean that reality actually is that way. Alter the brain with psychedelics and different worlds emerge. These worlds are fascinatingly variegated and infinitely compelling.

Otherwise I’m reminded of a funny story that Tom Rush told when he was at the Freight & Salvage a couple years back. The L.A.P.D. had arranged a show for some school children where various drugs were displayed in locked glass cases so that the kids would know what to watch out for so they wouldn’t be imprisoned and their lives destroyed forever, etc. etc.

But several items on display were mislabeled, and in the background could be heard the parents of a certain generation saying things like: “That’s not a Tuinol, Tuinols are yellow and that’s red, so it has to be a Seconal.” Or: “That’s not a female plant, it’s a male plant.” Or: “Look at that photo, that couldn't be Acapulco Gold, it looks more like Maui Zowie to me,” and the like.

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