RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH
With a number of bad adaptations of his books, the Dick estate has been more selective over who they give film rights to in recent years. Radio Free Albemuth was a long, legendary Philip K. Dick adaptation. In the early 2000s, Discovery Films acquired the rights to the Dick novels Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, VALIS and Radio Free Albemuth (1985). Discovery head John Alan Simon had previously worked as a film critic, publicist and lecturer in film studies. He had minor credits on films, including as a producer of The Getaway (1994), but had not directed before. Simon raised backing and began filming Radio Free Albemuth on a low-budget in 2007 for a release in 2010. However, funding collapsed and Simon was unable to finish shooting or complete post-production. A partially completed cut of the film was shown at various film festivals and conventions throughout 2010 and 2011. Simon sat on the print for a few years until interest pushed him to begin a Kickstarter campaign to get the funds to complete it. The complete version of the film only appeared in 2014 with minor theatrical screenings before going to VOD and dvd.
In order to understand Radio Free Albemuth, one first needs to understand a good part of Philip K. Dicks exceedingly strange life. For a period of time in 1974, Dick experienced intense dreams and visions of a pink light that seemed to grant him insights into things he could not possibly know such as giving him very specific diagnoses as to how his young son was ill. These visions continued for two months in which Dick believed he was being contacted by God or an alien entity and at other times he was a martyr in the First Century A.D. and everything about the modern day was an illusion. More credible speculation puts this down to an impacted wisdom tooth and/or reactions to a dental anaesthetic.
In an attempt to rationally understand what was happening, Dick wrote the experience into a work of fiction, which was originally entitled VALIS. This was completed in 1976 but publishers demanded extensive rewrites and Dick declined to do so. He instead rewrote the ideas with less autobiographical detail into what he intended to be a trilogy with VALIS (1981), followed by The Divine Invasion (1981) and The Owl in Daylight, the latter remaining an uncompleted manuscript when he died in 1982 (much speculation exists as to what this consists of). The original manuscript was only posthumously published for the first time in 1985 where it was retitled Radio Free Albemuth to avoid confusion with VALIS. Radio Free Albemuth incorporates much of the autobiographical material that took place during the pink light incident Dicks apparent knowledge about matters he could not know such as his sons illness; the visit from a delivery girl wearing a Christian ichthys pendant, which became of great symbolic significance to Dick; Dicks dislike of then President Richard Nixon and his paranoia about radicals (incarnated here in the totalitarian control of President Fremont); the incident whereby Dicks safe was mysteriously blown up in 1971; many of the wild speculations and theories that Dick developed about what was happening to him. The film takes it even closer and has the character played by Shea Whigman be Dick in all but last name Whigman is constantly referring to works of his, which are all books that Dick wrote The World That Jones Made (1954), The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, while he also describes the premise of The Man in the High Castle as the book he is currently working on at one point.
Radio Free Albemuth is B-budget Philip K. Dick. That is probably a good thing. This makes it a film made by Dick aficionados as opposed to a Dick property that has been through the Hollywood studio wringer and been turned into something unrecognisable. Thus it is a Dick film that pays close respect to the source material and faithfully adapts it, whereas many of the other adaptations have tended to conceptually strip them down and turn them into action films. As a result, this a film that mainlines the mind-bending conceptual glory of Dicks work paranoia, alternate realities, imagined worlds, subliminal messages, multiple interpretations of the phenomena all of which could be equally valid, the hero thinking he is in communication with insurgent groups and receiving messages from aliens. Not to mention that the film manages to make Dicks anti-Nixonian paranoia about the police and surveillance state even more relevant for the George W. Bush/Obama era than when Dick wrote the book.
The CGI representing VALIS and Jonathan Scarfes visions are on the lesser budgeted side but are perfectly acceptable in that this is not an effects driven film. Shea Whigman never makes for that convincing a Dick he gives the impression more of an average joe who would be more at home on a construction site than mulling upon the nature of reality. One surprise is singer Alanis Morissette. Morissette had only played before in Kevin Smiths Dogma (1999) as no less than God, as well as parts in episodes of Nip/Tuck (2003-10) and Weeds (2005-12), which were actually aired after she appeared here. She holds up fairly well in what is essentially only her second acting role.
Other Philip K. Dick adaptations are:- Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1990), Screamers (1995), Impostor (2002), Minority Report (2002), Paycheck (2003), A Scanner Darkly (2006), Next (2007), The Adjustment Bureau (2011), Total Recall (2012)the tv series adaptation of The Man in the High Castle (2015 ) and the tv anthology series Philip K. Dicks Electric Dreams (2017 ). The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick (2000) is a fascinating documentary about Dicks bizarre life.
(Nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay at this sites Best of 2014 Awards).