Philip K. Dick may be science fiction's greatest writer ever. His writing and ideas on reality, humanity and technology blend West Coast Utopianism, counter-culture paranoia and mystical experience. His work has been adapt... more »ed into films including 'Blade Runner', 'Total Recall', 'Imposter', and Steven Spielberg's 'Minority Report', starring Tom Cruise. His novels and stories continue to inspire and influence a generation of filmmakers, writers, technophiles and philosophers. But for the last ten years of his life, he inhabited a reality stranger than the fiction he created.« less
"Some day Philip K. Dick may get the documentary he deserves, one that gives us the life and the works; unfortunately, this isn't it. "The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick" is, at best, the first step. And while I appreciate the effort put into making this film, as well as the astute contributions by interviewees, this is a seriously flawed production, and does, indeed, seem like a college project hamstrung by a commensurate lack of funding.
For instance, as the director was unable to use any actual video of PKD, he hit upon the idea of using a cartoon version of PKD to segue from one "segment" to the next, but also to provide the "medium" to present a garbled, and at times, indiscernible PKD speaking in an interview, without, however, the benefit of subtitles. As Elvis Mitchell noted in his review of the movie for the NY Times, the "animated version of Dick behind the typewriter, which suggests a low budget version of the Cryptkeeper...underscores the minimal amount of money the filmmakers had (reportedly about $10,000) to finish the project, which was shot on videotape and feels even more cheaply done than an episode of "Biography" on A&E." (3/2/2001)
To note that mind-numbing repetitions of the same minimalist animation overlaid with an abysmally god-awful techno(?) soundtrack that no one in their right mind should be subjected to would be to belabor the obvious. Suffice it to say that before long I was muting the music, and then fast-forwarding through the un-animated animated segments to locate the next interesting "human" moment.
Insofar as the dvd bonus features package goes, forget about it. The dvd simply recycles the comments already presented in the film. So there is nothing new except for the interview with the director and the definitions of a half dozen key terms in the late oeuvre. Big deal.
Given the fact that some half dozen of PKD's stories have been made into movies (with more reputedly on the way), its high time for a full scale documentary. This "Gospel" may be a first attempt, but PKD deserves more and better. Seriously.
[As a side note: back in the day, when it lived up to its name, The Learning Channel aired a wonderful series (co-executive produced by Walter Cronkite and Goeffrey C. Ward) called "The Great Books." Imagine what they might have done with Philip K. Dick.] "
Might have made a good undergrad film thesis project.
John Morgan | Ann Arbor, Michigan | 03/05/2004
(1 out of 5 stars)
"It's difficult to imagine for whom this film was intended. Focusing as it does exclusively on the last decade of Philip K. Dick's life, and with virtually no discussion of his fiction, it would be incomprehensible to a newcomer. But since it contains nothing that hasn't been widely known about PKD's life for many years, longtime fans will find most of it boring. But besides this, the entire film is hindered by amateurish production values. As many have already pointed out, the film is padded by repetetive, crude animations which serve no real purpose, and features an electronic soundtrack that sounds like it was lifted from a PBS special, circa 1985. While watching it, I finally lost all hope of improvement during the sequence when the librarian at California State University (where many of PKD's manuscripts are kept) painstakingly explains the procedures for checking out materials from Special Collections. (And then, ironically, not a single page of any of PKD's manuscripts is displayed in the film.) The people who are interviewed (with the exception of the librarian) all have something interesting to say, but due to the filmmakers' total lack of editing skills, the film is painfully slow to watch. And most of the audio clips of PKD himself speaking were from the cassette issued fifteen years earlier by the PKD Society and widely available. I actually felt the deleted scenes section of the DVD contained more interesting material than anything that was left in the film, such as Ray Nelson discussing PKD's friendship with Bishop Pike. One wonders what led the filmmakers to conclude that watching their little animation of PKD at a typewriter for the sixth time made for better cinema than this material. Spend your time wisely and read (or reread) one of PKD's books instead of watching this."
Spunk Monkey | The pit of despair | 11/30/2005
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Dick really deserves some first class documentaries exploring his remarkable life and personality- and this one just doesn't cut the mustard.
If you love Philip Dick, you already know these stories (which, the ones they get to, are very shallowly explored), and if you are unfamiliar with Dick, this, I can safely guess, will not make you very interested in looking deeper. The interviews are not very revealing, the audio clips out of context and thematically meaningless, his works are not explored, there was no access to persons, pictures, video footage that make documentaries worthwhile. There are animated clips that are annoying and last too long.
This film is not totally without redeeming qualities, just not enough to warrent a purchase; unless, of course, you would like to see extended footage of the librarian talking on and on about the Dick archives.
If you would like to get a deep look into Dick, I would recommend the intriguing book "Only Apparently Real" by Paul Williams. Once, Philip Dick had his house broken into and a filing cabinet/safe blown up. This book, which is a series of interviews, has Dick, in his own words, unspool theory after theory after theory about whom may have done it and why: the police, The CIA, drug dealers, Black Panthers, and even at one point, himself. It shows how his mind functioned, like a megacomputer on acid and amphetamines, staring straight into the void. Also recommended is "Divine Invasions" by Lawrence Sutin, a more traditional bio but very well written. Then there is "I am alive and you are dead" by Emmanuel Carrere which I have not read yet but is supposed to be very good.
We can respect the efforts and the intent of the filmakers, but the results just left me cold.
Under Appreciated Unreality
kirkesque | formerly Yellowstone Park, now in Cape Fear | 03/31/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"... Just about a week before its release on video, I spotted an advertisement for "The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick" and pre-ordered it without having read anything about it. And I was not disappointed.Although the production values perhaps could have been better, considering the budget, they are not bad. This documentary is an endeavor of love, not profit, much as the entire writing career of PKD was. The interviews are poignant and heartfelt, and personable, which is something that reading transcripts of interviews is not. The care and admiration is evident in the faces and voices of those people remembering the author; from personal friends to fellow authors to notable guerilla ontologist Robert Anton Wilson (whose comments about himself possible being a perfect android created by the CIA alone made this film worth watching).There are features available which include a "Dicktionary" of reoccurring words and phrases in PKD's writings (what is "kibble"?), and animated pieces showing Phil at his typewriter, as if speaking to us about key elements of his philosophy. The audio tracks to these sequences being culled from interviews with him over the years.For a newcomer to PKD, this film may be an invaluable resource into the mindset of the author following a deeply personal experience he had in 1974. This experience dominated his last half dozen books and could be defined as a philosophical-religious epiphany, or the result of a complete mental breakdown. Phil himself never satisfactorily came to any firm conclusions about it. And this documentary, instead of attempting to be a biography of his life, focuses on his thoughts and endless theories about this experience. It provides a unique perspective on what lead up to this event and how much its profound influence on his later writings.For a veteran reader of PKD, this documentary offers a glimpse behind the some of the realities of the master of creating unrealities. Some of those people interviewed include Ray Nelson (author of the story on which "They Live" was based),
Robert Anton Wilson, Paul Williams (journalist/writer and former literary executor of PKD), & Jay Kinney (former editor of Gnosis magazine).In all, this low-budget documentary is much like the cheap paperbacks of the 1950s & 60s which Phil Dick wrote. The quality could be better, the production level could be flashier, the music could be more diversified, the animation could be smoother. But the subject matter could also be something more shallow than the mind-twisting beliefs of Philip K. Dick. What *is* this documentary? It is like sitting down and reminiscing about an author with his dear friends. It is a funny, tragic, hip, deranged, and darkly delightful film about one of the greatest writers and philosophers in any universe."
Fun Glimpse into World of P. K. Dick
Dorion Sagan | East Coast, USA and Toronto | 06/02/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a very fun and informative documentary for aficionados of Philip Kindred Dick whose writings directly inspired such science fiction film classics as Total Recall (based on the short story "We Can Remember it for You Wholesale"), Minority Report (based on the story "Minority Report"), and Blade Runner (loosely based on "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep"). Nonetheless, Dick made only a little bit of money near the end of his life time before he died of massive heart attack in his early fifties. He had been married several times, may have been abused as a child, and seemingly experienced benzedrine- and sodium pentothal-potentiated schizophrenia that was also a form of mysticism as well as an inducement to his multiply interpretable science fiction plots. On February 3, 1974 he had an extremely realistic 24-hour hallucination that he raced to explain throughout the remaining years of his life with such questionable concepts as alien contact and the stopping of time. (A Google search should reveal the 52-point Appendix to VALIS which gives an overview of this bizarre cosmology.) Thus, as the filmmakers correctly realized, Dick?s life is theoretically of as much epistemological and science fiction interest as the plots he derived from it. This will disappoint you if you want to see a state-of-the art science fiction movie, but it is quite fascinating if you are just looking to get closer to the wellspring of Dick?s incredible productivity/creativity. The documentary features interviews with individuals such as Paul Williams, the Rolling Stone journalist who published an interview with him (whose audio tapes have been cleverly used to dub a tasteful cartoon rendition of Dick speaking to us from beyond the grave at his typewriter) and Robert Anton Wilson, author of The Illuminatus Trilogy and a cult figure in his own right (he is a trip). There are also cool extras on the DVD such as a "Dicktionary" of explanations of some of his overarching concepts?e.g., the "zebra"?an alien intelligence that disguises itself among ordinary objects, "kipple"?a kind of spatial counterpart to entropy manifesting (again, as ordinary objects, see his novel Ubik), VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence System; considered by some his greatest novel), and the "black iron prison" (a Gnostic concept of Earth and our life here as a kind of spiritual holding tank)."