Director: Kilo Watts & The Drone
Running time: 20mins
I have not done psychedelics for an age now, so it was with a bit of feeling of nostalgia that I read the promo material for Kilo Watts and The Drone’s short experimental film Attentionspam. The ad promises the audience – amongst other delights – A Gonzo Animated/Music/Art/Film/Poem Experience and A Meditative Digital Acid Trip. Aside from my being astonished that someone would, in polite society on the eve of 2022, want to describe their work as gonzo, I was definitely intrigued. Watts delivers pretty much what they promise. However, watching Attentionspam only reconfirmed for me what a dangerous sentiment nostalgia can be – don’t go there – especially when it comes to chemically altered states of mind – it can never be as good as the first time around.
Despite, the gonzo pirate flag flying from the masthead, Attentionspam is very much a traditional movie. It serves up most all of the tropes and techniques that we associate with psychedelia in cinema. Watts gives us the visuals; a mashup up of vivid colour flooding the screen, coloured drawing on negatives, kaleidoscopes, stills and footage from ancient horror, zombie films, newsreels and science documentaries with an accompanying human soundscape spliced together from the above and from found sound. At the heart of the movie is a music score of pleasant but conventional psychedelic soft rock from collaborator The Drone – this essentially drives the film – dictating the mood and the tempo of the flow of images on the screen.
It was a strange sensation watching Attentionspam as it comes across as a lovingly crafted simulacrum of early psychedelia – as though a contemporary furniture maker had gone to an astonishing amount of trouble to recreate a Louis XV armchair – not for monetary gain but for the sheer joy of doing it. The feeling that I was examining an historical artefact hit me early on when Watts uses a recording of Allen Ginsberg reading the opening lines of Howl – I saw the best minds of my generation etc. Your reviewer’s reaction was, “Yes, that’s all very well, but that was the Beat Generation of sixty or seventy years ago Saint Al was referencing – it surely is time to move on.”
The thought occurred as to the director’s aims and intentions in making the movie. I kept wondering whether the film was designed to be a record or even a facsimile of an acid trip for those of us who have not opened that particular door to experience what it is like to be in an altered state – with the text proselytising the use of psychedelics. Or, alternatively, was Watts attempting to provide an aide memoire or road map for prospective trippers? I discounted the latter after concluding that sitting and watching someone else’s trip when you are on acid yourself would be as boring as listening to someone telling you about their dreams or, worse fate, their interpretation of their dreams.
One aspect of Attentionspam that would definitely turn off both trippers and non-trippers alike is the director’s insertion of lapidary statements in the form of placard style subtitles periodically throughout the movie. The wording comes across as a strange amalgam of Khalil Gibran and Hallmark greeting cards. My particular favourites were: In Heaven an Angel is Nobody in Particular; Whenever I Draw a Circle, I Want to Step Out of It; and the, priceless, If a Plant’s Roots are too Tight – rePOT. Presumably, Watts added these as part of the /poem/ experience we were promised but they really should bear in mind the fact that most of an audience for a film about psychedelics would have made the journey out of adolescence.
There are some aspects of Attentionspam that I thought innovative. The musical score works well throughout and provides a symphonic feel to the film providing a structure for the melange of imagery. I loved the up-tempo sequence with the brass section toward the end of the movie.
In the final scene, Watts comes up with a memorable series of images. We see a group of figures manipulating what appears to be a burning rope – the flames take on the shape of a Star of David which then changes into a trifecta. The images of the flames are framed in a cuboid box which gradually ascends into the sky. Unfortunately, the directors, never afraid to resort to poesy, has the box pass through a rainbow as it completes its journey – how mind-blowingly sweet.
It is hard to think of how to give advice to the directors as to future work. Watts and Drone have shown an exemplary attention to detail in making Attentionspam, but it is so fixed in the particularity of its genre, I cannot think of any meaningful help that I might give as to projects they might undertake outside psychedelia. If they carry on their work as an artist of psychedelia, please CUT OUT THE PLACARDS – the task is to convey what you feel not to tell the audience what they should feel. There is a theory that the poetic imagination always situates itself at the end of an era – try to move beyond this and imagine the future – a psychedelic future.