One of the yesteryear inspirations for filmmakers have been the turn-of-the-century avant-garde movement. They explored everything from hand-painted color and sound-on-disc to extremely cutting edge forms of narrative. One of the most bizarre early avant-garde films was called a Day in the Life of a Rarebit Fiend. Essentially, it was the story of an addict—an addict of the welsh-inspired meal, Welsh Rarebit. While there are many versions of the meal, it can be as simple as toast with a special rarebit gravy. (The fuller version usually features eggs, ham, toast, and the gravy.) Most of the film covered dreams of the “fiend” after eating too much rarebit and going to sleep.
While the goal of the film may have been to encourage people not to give into gluttony, the main premise of the film seems more to deal with giving people a glimpse into someone else’s life. If we honestly think about it, that’s the purist pursuit of filmmakers everywhere, to let your viewer have “a day in the life of…” whomever you wish to show them.
Sometimes this is exciting, as in a Michael Bay film about gun-toting detectives in Miami, while other times it’s a slice of life that’s simply different than your own, such in the over-wrought P.T. Anderson film, Magnolia. Whatever the glimpse created, filmmaking’s been designed to expand our understanding of the human condition and what it means to be alive. When I was younger, I wanted them to take the filmmaking revolution to the next level: experiential. While some movies have looked at that in different ways (like the extremely creative ‘90’s film, Strange Days, which proposed downloadable memories that could be shared through a special device), I always felt that it would be better to create a dream helmet. So long as you could imbed simple concepts into the dreamer’s mind, the human brain could adapt and embellish the dreams tremendously, customizing each dream tremendously to the individual dreamer. While much exploration has been poured into the dreaming mind, it’s still too complicated to interface thoughts and ideas into the structure of dreams, so, at least for now, a future in which all entertainment happens while we sleep is still just a fantasy.
Perhaps that is just as well, as I recently had the opportunity to sample a day in the life of someone in a fully interactive way and it was very, very overwhelming. This past month, I finally had a jaw surgery that’s been hanging over my head for most of my adult life. Because of the amount of pain associated with the recuperation, I was prescribed Percocet, a fairly powerful pain reliever. I had experience in the past with Loricet, a more powerful relative of Percocet that was prescribed for migraines I used to have, and, other than a general fascination with lights that happens with many high level narcotics, there were no negative side-effects. Since Percocet was less powerful, I figured that I would be able to take it easily.
You can imagine my surprise when I found that I was one of a minority that experience psychotropic responses to Percocet. While all regulated pain relievers can be addictive, they usually take a period of time for you to become addicted. The path of addiction normally takes months (which is why the heavily controlled substances will give you very limited prescriptions of four to five days with no automated refills), starting with the drugs making you feel invulnerable. Then they stop making you feel good as much as they keep you from feeling bad. If you don’t take the drugs, you start to find it more and more difficult to function. Then, as you become more addicted, you start to find that the effect isn’t significant enough to keep you stable and you start to become paranoid, easily angered, obsessively irritable, and highly fearful. Suicidal and homicidal thoughts war in the person and cohesive thoughts are more and more difficult to hold on to. Meanwhile, sleep becomes a morass of nightmares and cold sweats that the addict would rather avoid at all costs.
While this is the most common path for most addicts, for some reason, Percocet took me from behaving like a normal person to a complete junkie in two days! I went from being a fairly even keeled (although prophetic) visionary to a hollow-eyed lunatic who was starting to wonder if killing people who were being loud in Wal-Mart was really a bad idea?? Once I realized that it was the drugs I had been prescribed that was turning me into a complete nutcase, I took myself off them and got the doctor to put me on the Lor-Tabs. Problem solved.
As I was telling my tale to a friend of mine who works at Shriner’s Childrens’ hospital, she commented on what a valuable perspective this had given me. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like to think like an addict and to feel the way they did. I had to admit that it was a very humbling thing to get an idea of what that sort of lifestyle really might be like. In my situation, because it had only been a couple of days, I could transition meds with no negative effects. However, an actual addict is so chemically connected to what they’re addicted to that the transition is traumatic and psychologically searing.
Without the invention of the dream helmet, we may not be able to make our tales as immersive as my recent experience, but, as filmmakers, we get the ability to share some of our experiences with viewers that are just as alien to us as I am from the normal drug addict. I think of movies like Requiem for a Dream and American History X, which shows so much about different destructive cultures, and I am so grateful for how much of the tapestry of life they’re able to pass on to others. The Biblical book of Proverbs states that the wise man learns from others mistakes, rather than making their own. I know that that sentiment is one of the large reasons I helped found MFM, as I felt that anyone who could avoid my early mistakes in filmmaking would be able to start at a much higher place that I had begun my filmmaking career. Hopefully these thoughts help remind you of the importance we all have as filmmakers and how we can improve the reality of human existence by passing on the lessons and morals that each of us have learned the hard way.