Friday, July 15, 2022

How to Change Your Mind [Media Notes 75c] – On the visual style.

Chris Vognar, With ‘How to Change Your Mind,’ Taking a Trip With Michael Pollan, NYTimes, July 25, 2022. I suspected that something like this might be going on:

Tall and bald with the build of a swimmer, Pollan is no Timothy Leary — he isn’t asking anyone to drop out — and the medical trials described and shown in “How to Change Your Mind” shouldn’t be confused with Ken Kesey’s freewheeling acid tests of the ’60s. Back then, when psychedelics left the laboratory and entered the counterculture, the power structure freaked out.

“Kids were going to communes, and American boys were refusing to go to war,” Pollan said. “President Nixon certainly believed that LSD was responsible for a lot of this, and he may well have been right. It was a very disruptive force in society, and that is why I think the media after 1965 turns against it after being incredibly enthusiastic before 1965.”

Junk science spread nonsense about LSD scrambling chromosomes. The drug was made illegal in California in 1967, and then nationally in 1970. Researchers weren’t forbidden from continuing their work with psychedelics, but the stigma made such work very rare until it re-emerged in the 2000s. Today, clinical trials are approved by the F.D.A. and D.E.A.

“From the early ’70s to the early ’90s, there was no approved psychedelic research in human subjects,” said Charles Grob, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at U.C.L.A., who has written widely about psychedelic therapy. “Since then, research development has re-emerged and slowly evolved, until the last few years when professional and public interest in the topic appears to have exploded.”

Given evolving attitudes, one challenge facing the filmmakers, including the directors Alison Ellwood and Lucy Walker, was how to depict the psychedelic experience in a sophisticated way, without stumbling into the territory of a ’60s exploitation movie.

“We didn’t want to fall into the trap of using psychedelic visual tropes — wild colors, rainbow streaks, morphing images,” Ellwood wrote in an email. “We wanted to keep the visual style more personal, intimate and experiential. We wanted people watching the series who have not had their own psychedelic experiences to be able to relate to the visuals.”

One imaginative scene recreates the famous bicycle ride taken by the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, who first synthesized LSD in 1936 but didn’t discover its psychedelic effects until 1943 (accidentally). Feeling strange after ingesting 250 micrograms, Hofmann rode his bike during the peak of his trip. In “How to Change Your Mind,” we see the buildings around him bend and waver as he rides. The road beneath him blurs. The tombstones in a graveyard sway.

There’s more at the link.

The Times seems to going all-out on this. Here’s an opinion piece, Dana G. Smith, Taking the Magic Out of Magic Mushrooms. The piece isn’t quite the downer the title suggests. It’s about attempts to engineer drugs that have the therapeutic effects of psychedelics without the consciousness altering sensory effects.

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