Living in a dream world
Film explores man behind mysterious dream machine
Mark Medley, Canwest News Service
Published: Friday, January 16, 2009
Directed by Nik Sheehan
FLicKeR is an epileptic's nightmare. Nik Sheehan's new documentary
about the life of rebel artist Brion Gysin is a pulsating, trippy
voyage through the psyche of a man determined to create a new medium
through which humans can experience life. Visually arresting --though
it may leave some with a headache--and intellectually stimulating,
FLicKeR ultimately finds both filmmaker and subject falling short of
their intended goal, though not through lack of effort.
A hit when it screened last year at Toronto's Hot Docs Festival -- it
was awarded a special jury prize for Canadian Documentary--the film
explores the life of Gysin, who was born in a Canadian military
hospital in England in 1916, raised in Edmonton and lived the
impoverished-yet-glamorous life glorified by the Beat writers. He
left Canada for Paris, where he fraternized with the Surrealists and
later lived in the Beat Hotel (where William S. Burroughs finished
Naked Lunch and Allen Ginsberg wrote Kaddish); worked as a spy during
the Second World War; and co-founded a restaurant for the expat
community of Tangier, Morocco.
A renaissance man, Gysin was a writer, an artist and, perhaps most of
all, an innovator; he was the originator of the "cut-up" technique
(the literary process later used by Burroughs and others in which
text is literally cut up, rearranged at random and reconstructed to
make a new work). Sheehan, though, chooses to focus on the life of
Gysin by filtering it through another one of his inventions: the dream machine.
The machine uses flickering light to induce "alpha wave activity in
the brain" that is akin to dreaming, at least theoretically. Gysin
believes the machine could one day supplant television and film as
the dominant medium, a device that allowed people to make "their own
Gysin died broke and unknown in Paris, the dream machine never having
become a household appliance.
Genius helped spawn the '60s
Katherine Monk, Canwest News Service
Published: Friday, January 16, 2009
Warning: Not classified
Theatres, showtimes, B18-19
- - -
He was embarrassed about being Canadian, so there's a sense of karma
in Brion Gysin's story finding the light of day with the help of the
National Film Board and a Canadian biographer.
Called "the most famous cultural figure of the 20th century that
you've never heard of," Gysin's claim to fame is the invention of the
Dream Machine, a bare bulb covered with a spinning shade that can
strobe light at a mind-altering frequency.
First developed in 1960 after a train trip -- and the rhythm of
sunlight streaming through trees -- thrust Gysin into a
near-hallucinogenic state, the Dream Machine became a central fixture
in '60s psychedelia.
Toronto filmmaker Nik Sheehan decided to make FLicKeR, a movie about
Gysin, and began with the recently published biography by John
Geiger, Nothing is True -- Everything is Permitted: The Life of Brion Gysin.
"When I saw that Gysin wanted to be a spy, learned Asian calligraphy
while in Vancouver, saw himself as the reincarnation of the 10th
century King of Assassins
. . . and dreamed of being a rock star, I knew his story was worth
telling. I just couldn't believe no one had made a movie about him already."
Once he started filtering through the material, however, he
understood why other filmmakers turned away.
"His story is so broad, it touches on everything. Gysin was
interested in questioning the nature of reality, and whether what we
experience is real at all -- and those avenues of exploration can
become an awfully slippery slope for a filmmaker.
"A lot of people didn't like Gysin very much. He B.S.'ed a lot," says
Sheehan of his subject, who died in 1986."
Sheehan solicits the first-hand testimony of Dream Machine
enthusiasts such as Marianne Faithfull and Iggy Pop for his film,
which is slated for a showing in Vancouver today.