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Because I Got High: J. Hoberman on Getting Stoned at the Movies

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire November 1, 2013 at 5:15PM

The veteran critic weighs in on what drugs do to the cinematic experience.
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Micky Dolenz attacks a Coke machine in 'Head'
Micky Dolenz attacks a Coke machine in 'Head'

For legal reason, Criticwire neither endorses nor condemns the use of recreational drugs, but as we head into the weekend, take a moment to peruse J. Hoberman in The Nation on "The Cineaste’s Guide to Watching Movies While Stoned."

Getting high and going to the movies was not, he admits, "conducive to analytical thinking," but when you wanted to "experience a state of acute defamiliarization mixed with heightened idiocy," a well-rolled J could be just the thing. 

Hoberman's Village Voice comrade Andrew Sarris famously panned Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, then reversed himself after seeing it under the influence. 

Head properly adjusted, Sarris now saw "a major work by a major artist." This leads me to conclude not that marijuana necessarily improves movies, but rather that it facilitates the capacity to remake them in your mind. Filtered through a haze of grass, that which was simple is now complex, while that which was complex becomes unintelligible, and who really cares?

No amount of drugs, Hoberman writes, could improve El Topo, and seeing Gone With the Wind on acid turned out to be a bad trip. (I saw Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas with a friend who wanted to smoke up first; I fortunately declined, but the movie made me feel like I was high anyway.) Ironically, he finds the "most evocative head film" to be the day-glo Monkees vehicle Head, which he saw "years later (and straight) at the Museum of Modern Art." 

This article is related to: From the Wire


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