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Savant Review:


The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick
First Run Features
2000 / Color / 1:37 / 95 m.
Starring Robert Anton Wilson, Ray Nelson, Paul Williams, D. Scott Apel, Jay Kinney, Miriam Lloyd, Jason Koornick, Duncan Watson and Sharon Perry
Photographed, Edited, Produced and Directed by Andy Massagli and Mark Steensland

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Philip K. Dick is a personal guru to hundreds of thousands of ardent fans.  His Sci Fi writings range from clever short stories in the '50s, to visionary novels in the '60s and '70s that are still unsurpassed in intelligence, insight, and just plain genius.  I've read no one who exceeds him; his books The Man In The High Castle, Ubik, and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch are my idea of great, great speculative fiction.

Savant's knowledge of the finer points of Dickiana (The Philip K. variety) is limited, and I was eager to learn more.  So I grabbed the DVD of The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick with high hopes.  It turns out to be not a full-out documentary, but a well-intentioned 95 minute collection of talking-head testimony, aimed at people who already know something about the author.  The interviewees include a couple of well-known Sci Fi writers and speculative magazine editors, as well as personal friends and associates of Dick.  The information they have is mostly personal opinion of things already on the record about the controversial aspects of Dick's life - his paranoia, the break-in to his house, his avowed spiritual visions.  Dick wrote about these visions endlessly towards the end of his life.  Unfortunately, since the interviewees have nothing to offer about these matters except unfocused opinions, this part of the docu is something of a washout that reminds one of 'strange phenomena' tv shows.  These people are convincing 1st-person witnesses to Dick's experiences, but none have the ability or desire to make conclusions about the author's huge Exegesis, an 8,000 page attempt to sort out the philosophical meaning behind his own spiritual encounter.  Instead we are offered a lot of assurances that Dick was 'special' and 'inspired', things we already knew.

Those not already intimate with the facts of Philip K. Dick's life will be lost, or put off by the frequent personal emotional demonstrations by the interviewees, which do nothing for the docu except heighten its 'fannish' aspect.  Perhaps the best thing about the DVD is its links to various DVD sites run by the producers and contributors - there's where the wealth lies, Savant supposes.  The main website pitched, by the way, is  These experts are clearly doing a great service in 'spreading the Gospel' about Dick on the web, but this DVD has big problems.

As a docu, it is just too awkward and amateurish.  The rambling testimony, from speakers whose authority is not clearly established, goes on and on.  One of the interviewees runs a website dedicated to the various places where Philip K. Dick lived, and worked, including the famous pet store in Berkeley where he admitted to have bought horse meat when he was scraping bottom financially.  So we are treated to 'here we are at...' speeches shot on-site, but in such a way that we do not even get a good look at the places.  What visual breaks there are are provided by numbingly crude and repetitious computer-animated representations of PKD writing.  Several audio bites of Dick himself are illustrated with this same minimal animation, and seeing the subject of the docu reduced to an inexpressive caricature is not flattering.  Oddly, the most interesting visual in the show is a dull librarian-guided tour of a college's (Cal State Fullerton?) Philip K. Dick special collection holdings on the author, which seem to be thorough and complete.  As limp as it is, at least this is real information.

The final negative are the technical inconsistencies.  The interviews were shot on DV, and look okay, but the audio is all over the place.  Savant doubts that there was a professional mix, and there are several speakers who border on inaudible.  The aforementioned sound bites from the author are almost completely un-understandable on a normal system.  There are no subs or closed captioning to help out with this, so concentration is needed to understand all of what's being heard.  The editing looks rushed, as does the music.  There is a droning techno track under most of the show, interrupted by emotional piano music to accompany accounts of the author's death.  The amateurishness would be forgiven in a minute if the docu had some real academic content or insight to its subject.

Extras include some nice 'special definitions' for philosophical concepts found in Dick's writings, some fannish photos of the videomakers, and good link info to their websites.  Savant cannot resist his own speculation, that the makers of The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick are web-page makers who've moved up to DVD production with minimal experience.  Like many first-time filmmakers, they over-duplicate their credits to the point of embarassment.  They're no dilettantes, and they mean well, but their docu is not very useful to any viewers but those already close to the subject, and hungry for every possible detail about him.

The conclusion of the show exhorts us to go read some more Philip K., a message that grates:  if anything, the personal accounts of Dick's drug use and obsession with his spiritual visions have already raised unnecessary doubts about him, given the absence of hard evaluation of his great writing.  One interviewee even speculates that a religion might grow up around the author.  Terrific - just what we need, another Sci Fi author turned prophet.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick rates:
Movie: Fair
Video: Good
Sound: Fair
Supplements: 'Dicktionary' of terms, interviews with filmmaker and photo gallery, 'bonus footage' (just another animated segment of Dick talking)
Packaging: Scanavo case
Reviewed: April 6, 2001

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