The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick


         The field of science fiction has produced several well-known authors: Ray Bradbury,
 obert A. Heinlein, Frank Herbert, to name just three. Philip K. Dick (1928-1982) is another
 who has enjoyed a cult following. If those who follow more mainstream literature even
 recognize his name, it would be as the author of the book
Do Androids Dream of Electric
 Sleep
which was adapted as BLADE RUNNER or the story "I Can Remember It for You
 Wholesale" that served as the basis for the movie
TOTAL RECALL. Now Dick is back in
 the news, in part because Hollywood is adapting another one of his stories. No less than
 Steven Spielberg is directing
MINORITY REPORT with Tom Cruise set to star and filming
 to begin in spring 2001. Those who would like to learn a little more about the author may
 want to check out
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO PHILIP K. DICK, a documentary
 directed by Mark Steensland.

         While the film opens with an amusing credit sequence featuring an animated version
 of the author at his typewriter, that cartoon likeness is quickly overused. Steensland utilizes
 the clip as an interstitial to provide explanations about what his interviewees will discuss or
 when he relies on tape recordings of the author. (Apparently there is no extant footage of
 Dick, or if there is, the filmmakers were unable to obtain the rights.) One of the drawbacks
 of this documentary is that it assumes that a viewer is already overly familiar with the Dick
 oeuvre and his life and philosophies. There's little attempt to put the writer into context
 with either the times in which he lived or in the pantheon of the sci-fi genre.

         Steensland and his co-producer Andy Massagli also have rounded up an eclectic
 group of subjects to contribute to the film. There are friends (like Miriam Lloyd who makes
 the claim that Dick was one of the funnies men alive but can't seem to find an anecdote
 that validates her assertion), colleagues (such as Robert Anton Williams), fans
 (webmaster Jason Koornick of philipKdick.com) and journalists (writer Paul Williams who
 was lucky enough to score one of the few interviews the notoriously paranoid and press
 shy Dick granted).

         Shot on a very low budget,
THE GOSPEL OF PHILIP K. DICK is merely a
 collection of talking heads intercut with that animated loop. While some of what those
 heads say is intriguing (and contradictory), there seems to be no overriding theme. Certain
 topics are addressed like Dick's penchant for drug use or his philosophical ramblings based
 on a religious epiphany he had that may or may not have been drug induced but which
 resulted in an 8,000-page manuscript, but there's little to appeal to a mass audience. It is
 unfortunate given that Dick sounds to have been a colorful and eccentric person. Perhaps
 instead of a documentary, his life really should be given a feature film treatment (where
 are Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski when you need them?) At the end of the
 movie, there is a title card that exhorts you to go out and read some Philip K. Dick. Given
 that he was a prolific writer and one of the seminal figures in science fiction, that's hearty
 advice.

         
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO PHILIP K. DICK will have appeal to die-hard
 fans, but beyond that, it only skims the surface of the life of a fascinating talent.

                         
                                                         
Rating:                       C
                                                        
 MPAA Rating:         NONE
© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.