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Drugs in film

Parent categories: drugs - film

Titles: Reefer Madness (1938)

Scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) - Terry Gilliam [Amazon.com]


Drug movies are films that depict drug usage, either as a major theme or, less often, as a few memorable scenes. There is extensive overlap with crime movies, which are more likely to treat drugs as plot devices to keep the action moving. Drug cinema ranges from the ultra-realistic to the utterly surreal; some movies are unabashedly pro- or anti-drug, while others are less judgmental.

The drugs most commonly shown in films are marijuana, heroin, cocaine, LSD and methamphetamines. The following is a partial list of drug movies and the substance involved.

--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drug_movies [Mar 2005]

Drugs [...]

Recreational drug use is the use of psychoactive drugs for recreational rather than medical or spiritual purposes, although the distinction is not always clear. Regardless of medical supervision, this label does not apply to the use of drugs for utilitarian purposes, such as the relief of fatigue or insomnia, or the control of appetite.--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recreational_drug_use [Sept 2004]

LSD Films [...]

Drugs have long been a favorite topic of exploitation films. They allow the filmmaker to include the seamiest kinds of sex and violence, while maintaining a façade of moral righteousness and social concern. Drug movies date back to the silent film era, when cocaine was still a new thrill and opium was smoked in the hidden dens of Chinatown.

Regardless of the drug involved, the plots of most of these films follow a general pattern: young Dick and Jane are nagged by their "friends" to try a certain drug that is "the rage." Being "good kids," Dick and Jane resist at first but eventually yield to peer pressure, resulting in the total destruction of their lives. The classic example of this plot is Reefer Madness.

In the mid sixties, when the world at large discovered the joys of LSD, people said they saw monsters, flew to the moon and touched the hand of God. Filmmakers attempting to recreate these images came up with a wildly creative new movie style that could be termed "garage surrealism." Fisheye lenses, painted women, op-art patterns and multiple exposures became de rigeuer for any film illustrating the effects of acid.

Once the drug became a household word, there was no stopping filmmakers from exploring its possibilities. In The Acid Eaters, a gang of office workers shed their establishment guises every weekend and hit the road in search of cheap thrills. Their quest is finally fulfilled in the form of a fifty-foot tower of LSD!

The Weird World of LSD also examined—purportedly—the dangers of LSD, but lacked funds for much in the way of special effects. In one scene, a man hallucinating that he's flying on the wings of a great bird is shown lying on a couch, grimacing madly, as a crude drawing of a chicken is superimposed over the scene!

The mind-altering potential of LSD provoked much speculation: what secret depravities hidden in the libido might be released? In Alice in Acidland, a young woman discovers the joys of lesbian sex after taking the drug. In Wanda (The Sadistic Hypnotist) , lesbians again get the treatment, this time as sadomasochist leather freaks who have the tables turned on them after being forced to take the drug.

The best "trip" movie is also the best known: Roger Corman's classic The Trip. Written by Jack Nicholson and starring Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, and Dennis Hopper (acidheads all), The Trip chronicled the adventures of a young director of TV commercials who, feeling that his life has no meaning, takes a hefty dose of LSD and spends the rest of the film hallucinating his brain away. Corman, to better understand the subject, actually took acid before making the film. Along with 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Trip became required viewing for anyone into LSD. -- Jim Morton, Incredibly Strange Films (1986)


  1. Addicted: The Myth & Menace of Drugs in Film - Jack Stevenson [Amazon US]
    America’s War on Drugs has been raging for years, long before George Bush the Elder set off on his self-righteous crusade and long after his son, George W. Bush — a reputed coke snorter in his early days — took over the seat kept warm by his father. And while efforts to curb both narcotic usage and purchase have been met by only half-assed measures resulting in countless arrests of (mostly minority) petty dealers and knee-jerk Three Strikes legislation that spells certain doom for addicts who can’t kick — most notably as the bill’s author, Bill Simon, rides a different white horse to a recent victory in the California Republican primary — a deep consideration of the other Practice That Dare Not Speak Its Name as a social, financial, and physiological dependency is waylaid by more trenchant lip service leading to crackdowns on people that really don’t matter: the addicts themselves.

    So thank the opium poppy that Jack Stevenson has cobbled together his fun-loving look at junkies and hypocrites that is Addicted. Far from being a dense, scholarly (read: impregnable) look at the way drug use and abuse on the silver screen (and elsewhere) has been connected to social practice and prejudice — especially in its first breakneck tear through film history, "Highway to Hell: The Myth and Menace of Drugs in American Cinema" — Addicted is more of a tongue-in-cheek romp, presenting most drug cinema in the era of production code as exploitation cinema at its finest. And while the book features other writers, Stevenson is its ringmaster and its star, his biting sense of humor peeking out from the parentheses at every turn. --SCOTT THILL in http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/36/addicted.html

Pot Movies [...]

  1. Up in Smoke (1978) - Lou Adler, Tommy Chong[1 DVD, Amazon US]
    Cheech & Chong's first cannabis comedy is also their best, a souvenir from the more carefree days before "Just Say No," when people did not feel so defensive about inhaling. In 1978, the prevailing spirit was more like "Just Say Blow." Even New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael liked it (the movie, that is), adding that it was "an exploitation slapstick comedy, rather than a family picture, such as Blazing Saddles or High Anxiety--which means that it's dirtier, wilder, and sillier." The story has to do with bumbling potheads Cheech & Chong searching for primo bud, while being tailed by a team of inept law-enforcement officers, led by Sgt. Stedenko (Stacy Keach). Sample dialogue: When a cop pulls them over to ask if they are any illegal substances in his vehicle, Cheech replies: "Not any more, man." Up in Smoke is an irresistibly silly and charming movie that--despite, or perhaps because of, the national furor over drug use--plays today like a relic from a bygone era, a sweeter, more open, more innocent period in our history. --Jim Emerson for amazon.com [...]

  2. Reefer Madness [Amazon.com]

    Reefer Madness, originally named Tell Your Children, is a 1936 cult film. Its run time is 1:04:43. "Reefer" means marijuana or a marijuana cigarette.

    This film was directed by Louis Gasnier, who had well learned the silent era craft of over-acting. Its cast was composed of mostly unknown bit actors. The story was written by Laurence Meade. The plot revolves around the tragic events that follow when high school students are lured by pushers to try "marihuana": a killing, a suicide, a descent into madness all ensue.

    As a propaganda film financed by moralists, it was a terrible failure. Soon after, cinematic exploiter Dwain Esper bought the rights and cut in the "dirty bits" and began to make money on the rural circuit. Eventually it was shelved and the copyright was not renewed.

    It was eventually acquired by Keith Stroup, founder of NORML (National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws), who made it the darling of pot smokers and college campuses. For this crowd the poor production qualities of the movie, including the over-acting, have stamped it as an uproarious comedy that magnifies the futility of the current "War on Drugs".

    Reefer Madness has since fallen into the public domain and is available online. A colorized version of the movie is available; the smoke from the "marihuana" was made to appear green, red, blue, orange, and even purple. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reefer_Madness [Feb 2005]

Acid Movies

  1. Performance (1970) - Nicolas Roeg, Donald Cammell [1 VHS, Amazon US]
    This extraordinary 1970 British film marked the directorial debut of cinematographer Nicolas Roeg (working with Donald Cammell). James Fox portrays a London gangster who has to hide away for awhile and ends up staying with a fading rock star (Mick Jagger). The latter recognizes something of his old, daring self in the violent criminal, and after pushing open the boundaries of the hood's experience with psychedelics, the two men begin to intertwine as one. The film is an exciting pool of ideas about real and presumed power, about the mysteries of "performance" as a pressing outward toward an abandonment of identity and embrace of revelation. Beneath it all, however, is Roeg and Cammell's suspicion that the worlds of these two men--pop shaman and underworld soldier--are not dissimilar in their self-serving goals. --Tom Keogh for amazon.com

  2. Psych-Out / The Trip (1968/1967) - Richard Rush/Roger Corman [Amazon.com]

    The "best" trip movie is also the best known: Roger Corman's classic The Trip. -- Jim Morton

    The Trip was a low-budget movie made in the 1960s starring Peter Fonda as a commercial director who takes his first hit of LSD. The movie was directed by Dennis Hopper and the screenplay was written by Jack Nicholson. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Trip [Feb 2005]

Requiem for a Dream (2000) - Darren Aronofsky

  1. Requiem for a Dream (2000) - Darren Aronofsky [Amazon.com]

    [Story of a mother (Ellen Burstyn) and her son. Mother is on uppers to lose weight, son is doing heroin. Starts friendly enough, evolves into a nightmare, excellent movie. Visually stunning. 10/10]

    Requiem for a Dream (2000) (aka Delusion Over Addiction) is a critically praised film directed by Darren Aronofsky, starring Ellen Burstyn and Jared Leto. The disturbing film depicts different forms of addiction leading to imprisonment in a dream world, which is overtaken and devastated by reality. It is based on the 1978 book of the same title by Hubert Selby, Jr. The soundtrack (frequently described as "eerie" and "haunting") has been composed by Clint Mansell and performed by the Kronos Quartet. The film was originally tagged with an NC-17 rating by the MPAA due to a montage in the film's finale. Aronofsky appealed the rating, claiming that cutting any portion of the film would dilute, if not outright destroy, its message. The appeal was denied, but Artisan decided to release the film unrated. Burstyn was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in 2000 for her role. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Requiem_for_a_dream [2004]

Trainspotting (1996) - Danny Boyle

    Trainspotting (1996) - Danny Boyle [Amazon.com]

    Trainspotting is a 1996 black comedy film directed by Danny Boyle based on the novel Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh about a group of heroin addicts in Edinburgh and their passage through life. It stars Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle and Kelly Macdonald. Author Welsh also has a small role.

    The movie's screenplay was adapted from Welsh's novel by John Hodge. Interestingly, the screenplay does not contain any overt references to the non-drug-related hobby of train spotting, although the trailer contained a sequence involving the lead characters at a railway station that does not appear in the film.

    It sparked controversy on its release in the United States and in the UK as to whether it promoted drug use. However, it was generally praised as an inventive, highly effective film. In 2004 the magazine Total Film named Trainspotting the 4th greatest British film of all time.

    The film's release was supported by an imaginative marketing campaign using flyers inspired by rave culture and posters of each of the main actors. Due to illness, Kevin McKidd did not attend the photoshoot for these and as a result his career has not flourished to the same degree as the other lead actors. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trainspotting_%28movie%29 [Feb 2005]

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) - Terry Gilliam

  1. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) - Terry Gilliam [Amazon.com]

    The film version was directed by Terry Gilliam and starred Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke and Benicio Del Toro as Dr. Gonzo. Both actors were cast by the film's original director, Alex Cox who wrote the original screenplay with his longtime collaborator, Tod Davies. When Terry Gilliam became attached to the project as director he rejected the Cox/Davies screenplay for various creative reasons, and Thompson himself disliked it and did not approve of Cox's approach to the movie. Gilliam then decided to attempt his own screenplay with collaborator Tony Grisoni. When the film approached release, Gilliam learned that the Writers Guild of America (WGA) would not allow Alex Cox's and Tod Davies names to be removed from the credits even though none of their material was used in the production of the film. Angered over having to share credit, Gilliam left the WGA and, on certain early premiere prints of the film, made a short introductory sequence in which an anonymous presenter assures the audience that no screenwriters, whatsoever, were involved in writing the film, despite what you may read in the credits.

    The lead actors undertook extraordinary preparations for their respective roles. Del Toro gained more than forty pounds before filming began, and extensively researched Acosta's life. Depp lived with Thompson for months, doing research for the role as well as studying Thompson's habits and mannerisms. Depp even traded his car for Thompson's red Cadillac convertible, known to fans as the Great Red Shark, and drove it around California during his preparations for the role. Many articles of the costumes that Depp wears in the film are genuine pieces borrowed directly from Thompson, and Thompson himself shaved Depp's head to match his own natural male pattern baldness. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fear_and_Loathing_in_Las_Vegas#Film_version_.281998.29 [Feb 2005]

Drugstore Cowboy (1989) - Gus Van Sant

  1. Drugstore Cowboy (1989) - Gus Van Sant [Amazon.com]

    Drugstore Cowboy is a 1989 film written and directed by Gus Van Sant. Matt Dillon stars in the title role. Kelly Lynch and Heather Graham are also featured.

    The story follows Bob (Dillon) and his "family" of drug addicts as they travel across the Pacific Northwest in the early 1970s, supporting their habit by robbing pharmacies and hospitals. A highlight of the film is an appearance by the original "junky" William S. Burroughs as Tom, a defrocked priest who lectures Bob on the dangers of temptation. After a tragedy strikes the "family" Bob decides to try to "go straight" but finds that there is more to extricating himself from the drug user's lifestyle than just giving up drugs.

    Van Sant's screenplay is based on the then-unpublished novel by James Fogle. The novel was published in 1990 (ISBN 038530224X), by which time Fogle was released from prison - Fogle, like the characters in his story, was a long-time drug user and dealer. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drugstore_Cowboy_(1989_movie) [Feb 2005]

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