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Psychedelic Sci-Fi

By Annalee Newitz

"I AM STONED," the captain says gravely, his face in half-light as the glowing spaceship controls leave trails in the darkness behind him. He and his intrepid crew have just smoked a nicely rolled joint: perfect preparation for the their dangerous, fatal mission. In a psychedelic apocalyptic future, planet Earth is doomed because sperm counts have dropped so low that nobody can reproduce. Elite crews of men have been sent to the far reaches of the galaxy to find "fertility" and a place to plant their last remaining seed. They are armed only with pot, booze and a special pill that will make them potent--granting them one last chance to inseminate whatever they can before they die.

Welcome to the world of Candy Von Dewd, the new movie from Jacques Boyreau and the gang at San Francisco's world-famous Werepad. For years, the Werepad has entertained audiences who come to watch bizarro treats from its extensive exploitation-film archive in a groovy, fur-lined theater. Packed with weird horror, science fiction, psychedelia and William Shatner, the Werepad collection is clearly Boyreau's inspiration for Candy Von Dewd. The flick is awash in trippy special effects, and its fragmentary, drug-addled plot never strays far from scenes that require lots of latex-clad go-go dancers. Candy, the film's eponymous heroine, is a sort of confusing cross between Barbarella and Austin Powers who arrives just in time to save the day.

Watching Boyreau's obsessively detailed re-creation of a 1960s science fiction fantasy was jarring--I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen sf that was so goofy, orgiastic and colorful. With a few exceptions, all the sf movies of the past few years have been relentlessly, sternly cyber. Computers are tiny, vicious implants; pseudocybernetic heroes in black snort digital information like drugs; skies are made of sludge; and sex, if it happens at all, is magnitudes less erotic than gunplay. There are absolutely no go-go dancers of any kind.

Candy Von Dewd's aggressive 1960s nostalgia reminds me of another recent, although less-appealing, indie sf movie: CQ, directed by Roman "Spawn of Francis Ford" Coppola, also a San Francisco Bay Area local. CQ is set mostly during 1969 and follows the toneless adventures of an angsty young filmmaker in Paris who is working on a movie about a Candy Von Dewd-like heroine named Dragonfly. The cheesy sf scenes from CQ's movie-within-a-movie--complete with go-go boots, sparkly moonscapes and a revolutionary leader who says, "We must be free to make love all day"--are the best parts of the picture. They evince nostalgia for the future, a future that people once imagined could be sexy, fun and revolutionary all at the same time.

These days, the future isn't fun. The revolution is grimy and depressing. Science fiction flicks like the upcoming Matrix Reloaded, or even fantasies like The Two Towers, offer hope, but only if we delay gratification forever. And movies with "hard science" themes, like Minority Report and the soon-to-be-released thriller The Core, depict science as drab and destructive, not psychedelic and life-affirming.

Perhaps this is why young sf filmmakers are turning back to old visions of the future. They're searching for ways to tell new stories about what's coming next, stories that don't have the bulging muscles of Reagan/Bush America and aren't set to the tune of punk rock. They're trying to imagine what it meant to create "high-tech" computer consoles with buttons the shape and color of lollipops. They're looking for planets full of dope-smoking alien kids instead of slimy, flesh-eating hive minds.

Who knows if this is a good thing? Maybe the new wave of psychedelic sf will just inspire a few more people to buy candy-colored iMacs and get really into laser light shows. But I hope that movies like Candy Von Dewd, however small and silly they may be, are a sign that people are rethinking the future. And none too soon either, what with government oppression getting more trippy every day. Apparently, various officials have been removing sex-education material from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) website. Someone--no one at the NCI is saying who--removed information on birth control from the site and replaced it with the scientifically dubious "fact" that abortion causes cancer. What's next? Does gay sex cause cancer, too?

But as long as go-go dancers shimmy to the light of the interplanetary heavens, there is hope for sex in the future--and hope for drugs, too. Recently, a nonprofit pharmaceutical company (www.maps.org) got permission to start running a stage 1 clinical trial on MDMA. And where do you suppose the review board was that gave finally gave them the go-ahead to test this psychedelic drug on human subjects? San Francisco.

Candy Von Dewd will be playing on a double bill with Zardoz at the 4 Star Theatre in San Francisco on Jan. 15 and 16 at 7pm.

Annalee Newitz ([email protected]) is a surly media nerd who often clicks the heels of her sneakers together and whispers, "There is no place like home."

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From the January 9-15, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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