Summer movies now arrive on two tracks. There are the action-saturated blockbusters — the ones that dominate the entertainment-media complex — and there are the smaller, quieter, idiosyncratic films that qualify as ”counterprogramming.” The beauty of the setup is that the two tracks don’t necessarily compete. The sheer pervasiveness of blockbusters feeds everyone’s appetite for movies (it’s no accident they’re called popcorn movies: You don’t want to stop eating). The essence of counterprogramming is that, having gorged on spectacle, we’re that much more eager for an alternative, for something that feeds the soul as well as the senses. Here’s a roundup of notable small releases set to open this month.
Early on in the nimble, once-over-lightly documentary Timothy Leary’s Dead, Leary, the pied piper of psychedelia, explains that when he took his virgin magic-mushroom trip in the early ’60s, he learned more about the human mind from that one experience than he had in all his years of work as a psychologist. It’s a revealing statement. We can believe that Leary dove into uncharted furrows of his imagination. But, of course, the true realm of psychology is the relationship between the self and others, something mind-expansion drugs teach you almost nothing about.
The Leary who emerges from Timothy Leary’s Dead is a charming pathological narcissist. He gets fired from Harvard, becomes a smiling ringleader of the counterculture (a WASP Pan reflected in the glow of youth), gets arrested for drugs, and escapes from prison. Through it all, though, he keeps spewing his blissed-out metaphysical blarney, his conviction that the hallucinogenic revolution is worth dropping out for. Finally, Leary confronts the ultimate altered state, his own death (he makes it sound like a TV show he can’t wait to watch), and we’re treated to one of the more amazing sights in recent movies: the corpse of Timothy Leary, its head being removed from its body and placed in a cryogenic chamber. The image would be all the more queasy were it not, in fact, a hoax, a bit of hucksterism to top even Leary’s. One has to admit, though, that what makes it so egregiously clever is the way it completes the myth of Timothy Leary, whose quest for surreal inner ”truth” was really an obsession with his own head. B