Sunday, November 15, 2015

If Hillary Or Cruz Blocks Bernie's Path Revolution, Maybe The Musical Way Will Work-- Phil K. Dick's Radio Free Albemuth


Any Philip K. Dick fans in the house? You know, the San Francisco guy whose work is categorized as science fiction while much of it is about the evils of monopolies and tyrannies. Among his 44 novels and 121 short stories, The Man in the High Castle won him a Hugo Award for best novel in 1963 although he's probably best known for the books and stories that were made into movies, like Blade Runner (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), Total Recall (We Can Remember It For You Wholesale), Minority Report, Imposter, Screamers (Second Variety), The Adjustment Bureau, The Scanner Darkly), Paycheck and more recently (2010), Radio Free Albemuth, a dystopian alternative history novel he wrote in 1976 but which wasn't published 1985, until after his death (1982).

The book looks into the future and sees (aside from an heroic music industry)... Ted Cruz, an amalgam of Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon, who he names Ferris F. Fremont (numerologically 666), an authoritarian/fascistic Republican. Fremont, like Cruz, is a paranoid and opportunistic right-wing populist who is adept at working up the populace with conspiracy theories involving threats to society's safety. And that's the end of the Bill of Rights.

The low-budget indie film, which had a very limited release in 2010/2011-- but is currently streaming on Amazon-- stars Jonathan Scarfe, Shea Whigham (who plays Philip K. Dick) and Alanis Morissette. Predictably, the reviews were mediocre, though Richard Kuipers, writing for Variety, was less brutal than most of the corporate media.

Set in a quasi-Fascist alternative U.S. of the 1980s, “Radio Free Albemuth” is an engrossing adaptation of the same-named novel by Philip K. Dick. Produced on a much more modest scale than previous Dick interpretations such as “Minority Report,” this well-performed paranoia piece about a music exec rebelling against the state after receiving messages from an alien intelligence should connect strongly with Dick’s fanbase and attract upscale auds seeking sci-fi with political and philosophical substance. John Alan Simon’s helming debut, which hasn’t yet secured Stateside distribution, could prosper in niche situations if correctly marketed. Hefty worldwide ancillary action is assured.

Posthumously published in 1985, the source material is among Dick’s most autobiographical works. Very faithful to the novel’s detailed plot and complex meditations on the interplay of earthly realities, spiritual beliefs and otherworldly powers determining the protag’s destiny, Simon’s screenplay is inevitably talky but consistently absorbing.

Setting is Berkeley, Calif., during the fourth term of President Fremont (Scott Wilson). A scaremonger who has withdrawn civil liberties and imposed Draconian internal security measures, Fremont claims the U.S. is under threat from “Aramchek,” a subversive organization attempting to install “a Godless dictatorship.”

The story revolves around Dick’s two alter egos: narrator and audience conduit Phil (Shea Whigham, Boardwalk Empire), a successful sci-fi author; and Phil’s best friend, Nick Brady (Jonathan Scarfe), a record-store employee who is experiencing trippy dreams of his future self in another universe. (The character of Nick is the manifestation of identity-transforming visions Dick claimed to have experienced in 1974.)

Acting on messages received in a dream, Nick impulsively relocates to Los Angeles, with his understanding wife, Rachel (Katheryn Winnick), and is soon offered a top job with a major music label. Any lingering doubts Nick has about a higher intelligence guiding and protecting him are erased when he meets Sylvia Aramchek (pop diva Alanis Morissette), a singer in remission from cancer who has received transmissions similar to Nick. The upshot is Nick’s decision to produce a catchy pop song with subliminal lyrics that will inspire an oppressed population to rise up against Fremont.

With level-headed Phil gradually coming to understand the how and why of Nick’s radical metamorphosis, the pic operates successfully as a study of enlightenment and a straight-ahead conspiracy thriller. Although the discussions about the alien satellite communicating with Nick and Sylvia are a tad lumpy in spots, the narrative delivers satisfying intrigue and suspense, making the threat posed by Vivian Kaplan (Hanna Hall), a smarmy young agent working for “Friends of the American People,” a creepy state-sponsored organization, seem very real.

Gritty HD lensing and imaginative, old-fashioned-in-a-good-way effects showing the alternate world surrounding Nick and Sylvia. A terrific score by Canadian composer Ralph Grierson and British singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock is the jewel in a first-class tech package.
Robyn Hitchcock put together the soundtrack and included a long-time favorite song of mine, "I Wanna Destroy You," by the Soft Boys, the band he used to be in:

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