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  Chappaqua The TripBuy this film here.
Year: 1966
Director: Conrad Rooks
Stars: Conrad Rooks, Jean-Louis Barrault, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Ravi Shankar, Paula Pritchett, Ornette Coleman, Swami Satchidananda, Moondog, Jill Lator, John Esam, Ed Sanders, Hervé Villechaize
Genre: Drama, Weirdo
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Allow him to introduce himself: he is Russel Harwick (Conrad Rooks) and he started drinking at the age of fourteen. Soon he was an alcoholic and to cope he progressed to marijauna and hard drugs like heroin and cocaine, then when that wasn't enough he moved on to hallucinogenics. It was while on peyote he had a vision which disturbed hm so much he came to the conclusion that he should try and kick his habit, and so it was that be booked a place at an exclusive French rehabilitation clinic. But first he had to get there, and being drunk in New York wasn't the best way of going about it...

Written off by some as a vanity project, writer and director (and star) Conrad Rooks based Chappaqua on his own life experiences with drugs and his attempts to live a life without them, although judging by the results he achieved here he didn't try very hard. Many is the sequence contained herein which features supposed visions fuelled by narcotic excess, and as it was shot in various parts of the world it also serves as a mystical travelogue; how your interpretation of it all goes depends on how far you're willing to indulge Rooks.

And by the looks of it, he was willing to indulge himself pretty far. Still, the film is by no means inaccessible, and there is a story to be followed should you so desire. When Russel finally makes it to the clinic, after getting drunk on the plane over and continuing his inebriation in the back of the chauffeur-driven car that was sent to pick him up, he is helped into bed and can meet the man who is to assist him out of his drugs hell. He is Jean-Louis Barrault of Les Enfants du Paradis fame, and he and Russel share observations in English and French about Russel's past and how he got to this stage.

Yet, believe it or not, perhaps Rooks isn't entirely sincere in his character's wish to kick his habits. Among the counterculture personalities appearing are William S. Burroughs, who not only sells Russel drugs at one point but appears to be the head of the clinic; now I don't know about you, but rehab run by Burroughs doesn't exactly fill me with optimism. Also appearing, mainly in passing, are outsider artist Moondog, poet Allen Ginsberg and jazz musician Ornette Coleman, but although we hear a burst of him he isn't the man who provides the soundtrack. That is left to Ravi Shankar, who appears too, and his music fits surprisingly well to the footage.

A lot of that footage has a playful mood, and Rooks had spared no expense in getting to exotic locations to build up a sense of tapping into a universal truth (he was given the funding by his rich company boss father). However, that truth may be that drugs turn you self-centred and rambling, fit only for the company of other addicts. That said, Chappaqua (the title comes from the place Russel spent his childhood) is entertaining perhaps because it never settles down into a rut like a lot of drugs movies do. It presents a wide variety of imagery, such as Native American religious ceremonies, Indian religious ceremonies, and a bloke dressed as Gandalf arseing about on Stonehenge. All that and a vampire too. The film sums up a period in time in its pretentious manner, but is more than simply historically interesting.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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