Movie Review By Casey McCabe
I think most of us have had those moments in our lives when, being a bit bored and confused, we go into a tailspin of alcohol, peyote and heroin abuse and spend a few years wandering the world in a haze of clinical psychosis.
The difference is, most of us don't make a movie about it.
But the Sixties were different. A time when anyone with a camera, a few influential friends, a lot of pluck and a trust fund could revolutionize the world of cinema. And that's not a bad way to look at Chappaqua, the recent re-release of Conrad Rooks' 1966 cult oddity.
Rooks directed, starred in, and wrote the few slivers of dialogue in this film, which we are told is semi-autobiographical. And near as it gets to a story, it's the story of a spoiled young bon vivant and avid substance abuser who has committed himself to a Swiss sanitarium in hopes of escaping a world of dementia that may or may not be a nightmare, depending on how you feel about colorful visions of your own death.
It's often hard to tell if this is a film about delusions, or simply delusional filmmaking. One minute our anti-hero is staggering through Paris. Next shot we're in Wyoming. Or India. Or Stonehenge. Or Manhattan. Or in yet another landscape of the fevered mind. Where'd that naked woman come from? Why is William S. Burroughs riding in a taxi with a dwarf? Who's that witch doctor in the bathtub? Who are ANY of these people? Well, you get the idea. Chappaqua is grotesquely non-linear, non-sensical and self-indulgent. In its few lucid moments it may even be intentionally amusing and provocative. But then that pretty much sums up the world and times Rooks was working with.
It's painfully clear why they don't make films like this anymore. And it's both sad and funny that Rooks' long lost psycho-drama - so hellbent on shattering conventions - actually looks quaint in hindsight. With a soundtrack featuring Ravi Shankar, Phillip Glass, Ornette Coleman and The Fugs, Chappaqua is nothing if not a historical nugget. Perhaps it's best viewed that way. You may not need peyote with your popcorn. But it certainly couldnít hurt.
© 1999 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 06/02/99
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