Printer Friendly

Carrere, Emmanuel. I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K. Dick.

Carrere, Emmanuel. I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K. Dick. Trans. Timothy Bent. New York: Picador, 2005. 315 pp. Cloth. ISBN 0-312-42451-5. $15.00.

Robb, Brian J. Counterfeit Worlds: Philip K. Dick on Film. London: Titan Books, 2006. 317 pp. Cloth. ISBN 1-84023-968-9. $19.95.

Philip K. Dick has become good business for critical biographers, literary scholars, and Hollywood studios. Dick, the author of more than forty novels and one hundred short stories, has risen from literary obscurity to cultural prominence thanks to the attention of writers like Lawrence Sutin (who published the now-standard Dick biography, Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick, in 1989), scholars like Fredric Jameson (who famously proclaimed Dick to be "the Shakespeare of science fiction" in a 1982 essay), and studios like Warner Bros. (which released Blade Runner, an adaptation of Dick's 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, in 1982). Dick, in fact, has become a cottage industry. Cultural critics, academic analysts, and commercial filmmakers have eagerly contributed to the project of extending and assessing Dick's impact on American popular culture since the author's 1982 death.

Two recent books tackle Dick's life and art by adopting radically different, yet somehow complementary, approaches. Emmanuel Carrere's I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K. Dick, first published in France in 1993 (but only translated into English, by Timothy Bent, in 2005), is exactly what its subtitle states: an excursion into the intellectual, emotional, and philosophical rumblings of Dick's complicated psyche. Brian J. Robb's Counterfeit Worlds: Philip K. Dick on Film, by contrast, offers the best (and, in truth, the only) production history of the first eight cinematic adaptations of Dick's fiction yet published. Carrere barely mentions mass-media adaptations of Dick's fiction in I Am Alive, while Robb summarizes Dick's biography in a single chapter of Counterfeit Worlds, but both authors provide valuable insights into, assessments of, and perspectives about Dick's oeuvre.

Carrere's book will not challenge Sutin's Divine Invasions as the definitive biography of Dick's life or even outpace Gregg Rickman's lesser-known account of Dick's first thirty-four years (1989's To the High Castle: Philip K. Dick: A Life, 1928-1962), and I Am Alive and You Are Dead makes no claim to recounting Dick's existence objectively or comprehensively, although it follows Dick from his birth in Chicago on December 16, 1928 to his death in California on March 2, 1982. Rather, I Am Alive is a strange fusion of memoir and psychobiography. Carrere claims that "I have tried to depict the life of Philip K. Dick from the inside, in other words, with the same freedom and empathy--indeed with the same truth--with which he depicted his own characters" (xiii), a statement that might worry careful readers, for it seems to apologize in advance for getting the facts wrong.

Carrere, however, focuses on imagining (or re-imagining), as far as possible, Dick's emotionally turbulent, intellectually fervent, and spiritually fragmented personality. Carrere, the author of The Mustache (1986) and Class Trip (1995), two novels heavily influenced by Dick's work, plunges his reader into Dick's experience nearly as well as Dick's letters, journals, and autobiographical writings do, and I Am Alive includes splendidly detailed interior monologues that Dick himself might have written. Carrere is at his best when discussing Dick's contentious marriages, complicated religiosity, and intellectual vivacity. A relevant example is one marvelous passage in which Carrere evocatively recounts an event that other Dick biographies downplay. Dick had purchased a seven-hundred-pound fireproof file cabinet with royalties received from foreign editions of his novels, but he realized upon delivery that "once you've bought something like this you never move again, you've dropped anchor. [...] While trying to help the deliveryman with the safe he managed to give himself a hernia, which he interpreted as a sign of divine rebuke. Don't amass wealth, God was telling him. Everything you believe you own will be taken from you" (153). This commentary not only captures Dick's mordant wit, but also expresses his belief that even the most banal circumstances reflect how contingent, fragmentary, and unsettled human existence can be. Carrere writes his way into Dick's personality so well that the book's readers may, for pages at a stretch, believe that they have touched Dick's mind. They haven't, of course, but I Am Alive's intimate portrait of Dick's personality is a significant accomplishment.

Even so, Carrere's book has its imperfections, chief among them a chronology that, in several places, becomes so muddled that it confuses readers without firm knowledge of Dick's life. I Am Alive and You Are Dead, therefore, is more biographical novel than strict biography, succeeding so well at adopting Dick's perspective that it also reproduces the man's biases. Carrere's discussion of Dick's third marriage to Anne Williams Rubenstein, and especially this marriage's dissolution, is far too tough on Anne, assuming despite occasional statements to the contrary that she was the willful, cold, and controlling harridan that Dick made her out to be. Anne's own book about this marriage, 1995's Search for Philip K. Dick, 1928-1982: A Memoir and Biography of the Science Fiction Writer, complicates Carrere's sometimes simplistic view of the woman. Carrere's desire to reproduce Dick's inner life may explain but cannot excuse the casual sexism of I Am Alive's depiction of Anne. Treating her as unfairly as Dick did might seem inevitable for a book that attempts to re-create Dick's mind, but this tendency demonstrates Carrere's penchant for questionable assumptions about Dick's life, work, and art. These problematic passages are thankfully infrequent, but nonetheless jarring for the reader to encounter.

Carrere's largest oversight is his refusal to explore Dick's initially skeptical but finally appreciative regard for Blade Runner. I Am Alive's final chapters include admirably detailed accounts of Dick's suicide attempts; his drug use; his friendship with Episcopal Bishop James Pike; his mentorship of science fiction writers Tim Powers and K. W. Jeter; his sometimes bizarre love affairs; and his increasingly fevered composition of an 8,000-page journal, simply titled the Exegesis, that analyzed a series of vivid visions and remarkable dreams that Dick endured during February and March 1974. Carrere's sensitivity to Dick's spiritual fervor, which sometimes lapsed into religious mania, results in writing of rare hallucinatory power that still overlooks Dick's contentious relationship with Blade Runner. The interviews that Dick gave in the year before his death reflect the man's growing excitement at having his fiction adapted for cinematic consumption. Dick, who was as appalled by Warner Bros.' disinterest in his advice about Blade Runner's production as he was by the screenplay's first draft, eventually embraced the project after viewing twenty minutes of visual-effects footage, after meeting director Ridley Scott, and after reading a revised screenplay.

Carrere virtually ignores this aspect of Dick's final year, but Brian J. Robb does not. Robb's book, Counterfeit Worlds: Philip K. Dick on Film, is an indispensable production history of the first eight cinematic adaptations of Dick's fiction: 1982's Blade Runner (based on Dick's 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), 1990's Total Recall (based on Dick's 1966 short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale"), 1992's Confessions d'un Barjo (based on Dick's 1975 novel Confessions of a Crap Artist), 1995's Screamers (based on Dick's 1953 short story "Second Variety"), 2002's Impostor (based on Dick's 1953 short story "Impostor"), 2002's Minority Report (based on Dick's 1956 short story "The Minority Report"), and 2006's A Scanner Darkly (based on Dick's 1977 novel A Scanner Darkly). Counterfeit Worlds was published in 2006, several months before the ninth film adaptation of Dick's fiction, Next (based on Dick's 1954 short story "The Golden Man"), appeared in theaters (in April 2007). Robb's book as a result may not be comprehensive, but it offers more details about the movies adapted from Dick's work than any other single source.

Robb lavishes three chapters on Blade Runner, reflecting his belief that Ridley Scott's film remains the best cinematic adaptation of Dick's fiction. Even so, Robb does not provide the definitive history of Scott's movie (Paul M. Sammon's 1995 book Future Noir: The Making of "Blade Runner" does), but Counterfeit Worlds offers so many cogent observations about Blade Runner's contentious production that the film seems refreshingly alive even to readers who have seen it many times. Robb covers Blade Runner's many screenplay drafts, its contested financing, Ridley Scott's perfectionism, Dick's changing attitude toward the project, and the remarkable technical skill of its production staff without copying or diluting Sammon's account. Robb nicely discusses Scott's careful casting of all Blade Runner roles, as well as the on-set tensions provoked by the director's demanding personality. Scott not only wished to develop a densely layered visual style that would set Blade Runner apart from all other science-fiction films, but also helped to create a unique movie that is now be celebrated as a landmark in American sf cinema. Robb, however, reminds the reader that Scott's quest for visual innovation caused tremendous friction among the film's cast and crew, and particularly with star Harrison Ford.

Counterfeit Worlds, despite its detailed coverage of the films based on Dick's fiction, is not a scholarly text. Robb confines himself to behind-the-scenes revelations about how each film made its way from Dick's pages onto movie screens rather than rigorously analyzing the relationship between the films and their source material. Robb's book, in doing so, offers more knowledge about the cinematic adaptations of Dick's fiction than any other available text. The author does not shortchange his reader either, for Robb's mission is to reveal how each movie was produced rather than to assess its aesthetic significance. The mainstream press has extensively covered Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report, but Robb presents production information about the lesser-known films (particularly Confessions d'un Barjo and Screamers) that has never before been published.

Counterfeit Worlds is written in an engaging, conversational style that maintains the reader's interest. The book's primary accomplishment, however, involves three terrific chapters. Chapter 2, "Puttering About," addresses the earliest radio and television adaptations of Dick's fiction, as well as Dick's interest in becoming a television writer. Dick prepared story treatments for two 1960s action dramas, Larry Cohen's The Invaders and Bruce Geller's Mission: Impossible, that went nowhere, then wrote a proposal for a new, lighthearted television series set in Heaven that, had it been produced, would have followed the adventures of a small firm of guardian angels who assist mortals with insoluble problems.

Chapter 4, "Use As Directed," addresses the only screenplay that Dick ever wrote: an adaptation of his own 1969 novel Ubik. Dick was overjoyed when contacted by French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin in August 1974 about the possibility of writing the script, which Dick finished in only three weeks. Gorin was overwhelmed by the quality of Dick's screenplay, which was considered unfilmable because it consisted of little more than long conversations. Dick was extremely disappointed when Gorin proved incapable of raising financing for the proposed movie (which received a new treatment by writer Bob Rudeson). Robb covers Dick's single adventure in screenwriting with grace and wit, alerting the reader to the fact that copies of this script are available in rare, expensive editions of a book released in 1985 by Corroboree Press.

Robb's best work, however, comes in chapter 10, "Machine Dreams," which offers the most extensive discussion ever published of the Showtime cable network's 1999 television series Total Recall 2070. Robb covers the program's complicated genesis (Total Recall's television rights were sold for $1.2 million after Carolco Pictures, the company that produced the film, went bankrupt), its extended development (the original concept was "Casablanca on Mars," but this idea was scrapped because it might have interfered with the storyline that Miramax Films was developing for a proposed cinematic sequel to Total Recall), and its eventual emergence as a detective-of-the-future series that recalled Blade Runner far more than Total Recall. Robb's enthusiasm for Total Recall 2070 is evident. He explores how producers Jeff King and Art Monterastelli fused ideas from Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Dick's fiction to create "a serious piece of science fiction, a character-driven police drama which engaged ethical questions about the progress of science" (211). Robb's assessment is correct, although only the few Showtime subscribers who saw all of the program's twenty-two episodes can understand how right he is. The author includes numerous comments by King, Monterastelli, and series star Michael Easton that flesh out Total Recall 2070's serious approach to its material, although Robb's argument goes remarkably awry when positioning the program as more substantial than the five Star Trek series (particularly Deep Space Nine) that still reign as the United States's most famous contribution to televised science fiction. As it stands, Robb's discussion of Total Recall 2070 constitutes the best argument for releasing the entire series in digital format (currently, only the pilot episode is available on DVD) or, considering Showtime's recent resurgence as a broadcaster of original television drama, for producing more episodes.

Counterfeit Worlds is also notable for the impressive number of photographs contained in each chapter. Robb collects many images familiar to enthusiasts of Dick's cinematic adaptations, but also includes little-known production photos from each project. The book, despite these plaudits, makes a few missteps, including its wrongheaded declaration that Christian Duguay's 1995 film Screamers (starring Peter Weller) "fails to capitalize on the concepts drawn from the original short story" (193), which overlooks this flawed film's authentically fascinating exploration of corporate greed and colonial militarism. The book's most egregious error, however, is that Robb devotes nearly as much attention to John Woo's 2003 movie Paycheck as he does to Steven Spielberg's Minority Report (2002) and Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly (2006). Woo's film is the most disappointing adaptation of Dick's fiction profiled in Counterfeit Worlds, so Robb's thorough production history, while valuable as a resource for curious cineastes, nonetheless implies that Paycheck is as intriguing as Minority Report and A Scanner Darkly, when, in truth, Spielberg's and Linklater's movies arguably are much more compelling films than Woo's flaccid film.

Counterfeit Worlds, despite these drawbacks, is a valuable addition to popular and academic discussions of Philip K. Dick's literary influence. By addressing all the cinematic adaptations of Dick's fiction, Brian J. Robb's text plugs a hole in existing scholarship (even if this book is not a scholarly analysis). Emmanuel Carrere's I Am Alive and You Are Dead also fills a blank in the conversation about Dick's life by depicting the man's complex personality in a way that no other biography does. Both authors provide insightful commentaries about Dick's life, fiction, and status as a cultural icon and, notwithstanding occasional lapses, deserve genuine thanks for enhancing our appreciation of the complicated life and cultural significance of one of America's best twentieth-century novelists.
COPYRIGHT 2008 The International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Counterfeit Worlds: Philip K. Dick on Film
Author:Vest, Jason P.
Publication:Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2008
Words:2460
Previous Article:Erisman, Fred. Boys' Books, Boys' Dreams and the Mystique of Flight.
Next Article:Newitz, Annalee. Pretend We're Dead: Capitalist Monsters in American Culture.
Topics:

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |