Dope - a film by Sheldon Rochlin and Diane Rochlin.
03/04/08 21:35 Filed in: Info
Shot in the lilting, evocative style of filmmakers Sheldon and Diane Rochlin, the film-celebrated for its subversive content-was shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1975. Praised as a film "ahead of its time” by Ricky Leacock, the Rochlins signed a distribution contract with Leacock-Pennebaker. But just as the final editing was completed, the distribution arm of Leacock-Pennebaker went bankrupt. The film has remained an underground indie classic ever since.
This is a feature documentary about a young girl’s descent into drugs. Shot in late-sixties London, we see ravishing Caroline--black makeup around her eyes and tattooed head to toe--become a junkie. We come to understand not only the drug lure of the era, but also the soul of a free spirit who is caught in the grip of forces she cannot penetrate or comprehend. Like a butterfly caught in a web, Caroline struggles against her fate, but its seductive attractions threaten to vanquish her.
London 67-68, features music by GENO FOREMAN (Cocaine, When You Hear Those Cuckoos Calling, Some Call Me a Junkie..) and a voice also tells the "story" of Geno's death in London.
In 1965, Sheldon Rochlin and I set out for Positano, Italy to make a film about Vali Myers, the red-haired woman whom you will see briefly in DOPE. We met Caroline, her friend and acolyte, who was living in a cave nearby. Almost two years later, upon hearing that Vali was going to London to dance onstage at a Donovan concert, we set off to make a film using that, to us extraordinary, event as the jumping off point, allowing the material to lead us as it chose. Since Donovan (or his agent) was uncooperative, the film immediately took a different direction, leaving Vali as only a peripheral character in the life of Caroline who was now living in London.
With only an awareness of the beautiful confluence of events that had brought us all together-- all meaning ourselves and our five main characters--and a great trust in both the time with its heightened expectations and in our own ability to flow with sureness and skill through what was called the changes, we began our open ended filming adventure.
Although film as a medium was a bit more affordable in those days, it was still touch and go with uncertain financial backing coming from unexpected places. Sheldon and I each had a small 16mm Beaulieu camera so that sometimes he, sometimes I, would shoot different scenes depending upon various intangibles. Our only other crew was an artist friend from New York, recruited to record sound on the Nagra.
We felt simply that with unwavering openness and attention, and insofar as we were capable, purity of intent, we would allow to be created a film of that time and of that place, since both that time and that place seemed to bristle with synchronicity. Upon returning to New York, we fortunately obtained backing and a promise of distribution from Leacock-Pennebaker, who were distributing “Don't Look Back” and “Monterey Pops”, and thereupon hangs another too long to go into tale.
Many long months of editing were completed in the summer of ‘68 and the final version--after much discussion of infinitely small details--wound up using roughly equal proportions of each of our footage. Since a true narrative didn't exist, we created a loose structure based on a few general directions in each of our character's lives. As one character, whom we see very briefly showing us his drawings says, "I don't think I'll put very much story into it, just getting high and coming down and that's about it."
Nevertheless, "stories" if you will, did emerge, and if you listen very carefully to the soundtrack which is complex, you will be able to follow them.
After we finished DOPE, we moved into video in ‘69.
the above written for my spoken presentation at the screening at First Provincetown Festival '99
“The images are so lyrical and transfixing that sometimes it's hard to
remember the story is one of drugs and dissolution.”-from legendary figure of the times Ira Cohen, Feb ‘08
Diane and Sheldon Rochlin are Americans who have travelled widely in Europe, filming the people and events they become involved with’; DOPE, shot in London in 1967 records a group of young people whose lives centre largely on the use of the well-known ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ drugs. From the title sequence (the violent light and sound of an aircraft landing) it is evident that the Rochlins’ method is something other than conventional cinema-verite; and the fast varied collage of situations and observations which follows resolves itself into an organic and coherent whole, quite untypical of the genre. The film freely juxtaposes fragments of domestic observations (artificial only in their brevity) with scenes around London, and long conversations and telephone calls with sequences simulating a drug-users perception.
In effect, this means that the film both avoids the dubious , ambiguous ‘intimacy’ of much cinema-verite, and that it has a well-developed visual style. The Rochlins’method is basically expressionist; but surprisingly, this in no way contradicts their decision to be recorders rather than commentators, but rather proves that neo-realism and its offspring movements are limited and limiting ways of handling documentary in the cinema. Their refusal to interpret their subjects has made the film an unusually valuable testament to the spirit of its time and place (pirate radio, the early days of the London Film-makers Coop in the Better Books basement, interstellar rock at the UFO club), and their subjects in turn have provided a number of complex situations (most notably, a conversation between a girl from the group and an old man at a hunt meeting). A death in the group is assimilated into the film without any deviation from the overall tone. Ultimately, the best analogy for the Rochlins’ achievement is the old blues song which runs through it like a refrain: ‘Hey, baby, won’t you come here quick/ This old cocaine’s making me sick/Cocaine all around my brain.’
Dope shares the same tone of subdued pain and troubled acquiescence; and it is perhaps this, above all, which makes the film so distinctive.
--Tony Rayns, London, Monthly Film Bulletin- June,1971
When it premiered at the Locarno Festival in 1968, DOPE was praised by Variety’s Gene Moskowitz as “....not just another look at the so-called drug, or hippie scene. A rugged documentary with revealing insights into the sad, touching, downbeat, sometimes tender drug scene.”
“Ones perception of DOPE is even more complex today, when the immediacy and poignancy of its style mingle with other perspectives provided by the distance of seven years” according to John Hanhardt, Head of the Film Department. “Seeing DOPE remains a harrowing experience while at the same time one feels a curous nostalgia, both for times past and for lives lost.”
The edges between immediate experience and remote history begin to blur; we see at once “how it is” and “how it was.” Years from now DOPE will probably survive as an historical document of a time long ago. If so, it will surely inform and shape how anyone who has seen it thinks about the time and place it describes...
-- Whitney Museum of American Art, press release for New American Filmmakers Series, 1975
For more information visit: http://www.dopethemovie.net/