About a month ago I had the opportunity to drive down to LA to see a screening of Radio Free Albemuth with director John Alan Simon. Pretty cool, I know. John wanted me to take a look at the current cut of the film before any further changes are 'locked out' and they begin the painstaking work of mixing and cleaning up the sound, correcting the color-timing, tweaking the special effects, and putting on the final polish.
I really enjoyed the movie and think most Dick-heads are also going to like this film 1) it's an independent release, so it's free of dodgy chairs, high-speed chases, fight scenes, gun battles or Keanu, Tom, Nick, Arnold, or any other Scientologist; 2) and best of all, it's very true to the book. While writer/director John Alan Simon was forced to cut some of the material from the novel, I think he did so in a very effective and sensitive way.
Above: Director John Simon with Katharyn Winnick playing Rachel, and Shea Wigham, filming of one of my favorite scenes.
Although most of the autobiographical material about Philip K Dick as a young child has been excised, John still manages to get us to care about these characters pretty quickly. John mentioned that he kept the 1982 director Ivan Passer's film Cutter's Way in mind while writing the script and shooting the film. Having never seen it, I rented it last week, loved it, and instantly saw its influence in Radio Free Albemuth. Both are loving portrayals of counter-culture heroes whose personal moral codes triumph over The Man - though at a supremely high price.
Above: Jonathan Scarfe who plays Nick Brady pays the price.
If you remember, John Alan Simon filmed this movie on a modest budget with private financing in a fast 27 days, using the high-end digital Viperstream camera system which David Fincher used for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Zodiac. and Michael Mann used for Collateral. Currently, Simon is deep in post-production. What I saw was a version very close to the final edit of the film but in much lower resolution image quality than the final film will be. The lighting, sound effects, and musical score were still at a pretty early stage, so I had to use my imagination during some points. The film had a very 'indie' look to it, kinda like Cutter's Way.
Like I said, I think Dick-heads will like this film. It's really interesting how Simon positions the film in an alternate world through the clever use of dialog and scenery. Try as you might, you cannot locate this film in time. Also there are a few establishing shots that seem to encompass several of the book's themes in their composition; one of my favorites was a shot of a palm tree with barbed wire strung in loops before it.
Aside from Alanis Morrisette, who turns in a good performance as Silvia, the actors in RFA are relatively unknown. I thought the guy playing Phil , Shea Wigham, is really good. I think he's the first person to play PKD, and my only complaint is that when he appears onscreen writing, I wanted to yell, 'Type faster!'
Above: Shea Wigham as Phil.
As always, there will be some armchair quarterbacking going on afterwords, but John Alan Simon has made a very gutsy PKD adaptation. He has bravely filmed the novel's many visions and dream sequences, which, I'm sure, was no easy feat, and explains why the film has taken somewhat longer than usual in post production due to creating complicated digital effects on an "indie" budget. I felt like this movie is a labor of love, a tribute to Phil from a screenwriter and director who really gets him, not one who simply sees Hollywood gold in adapting his stories. You have to respect that.
Stay tuned for a forthcoming interview with John Alan Simon when we'll learn more about the production, and when we can expect to see the film in theaters.
More production photos can be found here.