It's a heavy trip, being addicted to 'drugs.' In the case of the 1973 TV movie version of the 'anonymous diary' GO ASK ALICE it's a mix of coke, uppers and downers, but mainly--weirdly enough--LSD. Moron says what, now? Do you know how hard I tried to be addicted to LSD in the 1980s? It's impossible. Those of us who pushed it wound up in many a detox, AA meeting, church pew, and psych ward, but there's nothing addictive about it, and the idea of junkies shaking and scratching as they turn tricks to pay for their next LSD hit is ridiculous. Heroin or speed or coke, sure. LSD and DMT are whole other ballparks, but these are clearly the drugs of choice in GO ASK ALICE. There's no mention of heroin, and when she's introduced to speed it's in pill form, which is the same thing as an upper, i.e. amphetamine, which she'd been taking long before that. So what the fuck?
I remember certain scenes from this film from when I saw it for an elementary school health class in the seventies: Alice (Jamie Smith-Jackson, who's excellent) in her cool hat, blowing off her nerdy high school friend to hang out with the cool kids; Alice and her druggie runaway friend on their knees in some twisted sadomasochistic game run by an older couple to make the girls beg for capsules of some drug, which I hope is not acid. Can you imagine wanting to do acid with leering adult perverts? Everyone seems like a leering adult pervert on acid, to begin with. God knows what they'd seem like after a 'mixed bag.'
For all that though, this sadist flashback scene has some extra heavy grotesque resonance, like a promo for a dark drive-in film ALICE's target audience was still too young to see. But as with the drug references it's very (intentionally?) muddled. What pill does the creepy sadist have in his hand? What sick game is he proposing in his muffled voice, and why does one girl lunge at him while another spins around and races into the other room screaming? The effect is unsettling - as if the film is deliberately trying to upset and confuse us while making the crimes depicted impossible to duplicate, scrambling the details to an almost surreal David Lynch-esque degree (Lynch's idea of the dark sex-and-drugs underbelly of TWIN PEAKS, for example, has a similar after school special-run-amok lack of logic).
And I remember the scene where she walks in on her boyfriend with his other girlfriend or a boyfriend, and so steals his money and grabs a bus to San Francisco with her Kay Lenz-ish friend. And I remember her outburst at a drug counseling group when a fellow addict seems to be enjoying his tales of glue-sniffing just a little too much (and then he offers her something called "a mixed bag"). I have also thought about what she said in that scene at my first AA meetings. In fact, remembering this scene kept me out of AA for longer than it might have otherwise. The grainy TV movie image of her walking away triumphant from the myopic addict circle was my badge of resistance against AA's cult reputation.
This time around, a mere 30 or so years later, seeing it again last night on DVD, what do I notice? The relentlessly awesome music. William Shatner's crazy falling-off moustache. And the deliberately vague, gray areas--the bait and switch way you can't tell if Alice walks in on her boyfriend with another woman... or a man? (see below) My fellow schoolmates argued over that for months! Watching it now I can't help but think it's deliberate, to muddy the waters, to depict the druggie world as it must look in the brains of children or adults way on the outside, letting their fuzzy imagination run warm and weird.
|What Alice Sees before leaving|
|What we see after Alice leaves|
The result: someone doses her soft drink while babysitting (we're tipped to her being drugged when Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy" starts playing on the soundtrack while she's still feeding the baby) and you know how the rumor goes about babysitting on acid. Alice locks herself up in a closet to resist the temptation (apparently always overwhelming in acidheaded 70s babysitters) to put the baby in the oven and the dinner in the crib. Luckily the lock holds on the closet. When she comes to her hands are all bandaged from trying to claw through, Poe-style.
But for all that--the parents aren't the bad guys, which is sooo 70s. Parents were expected to have their own lives, and help their kids best they can, but not become dicks about it, or get all micro-managing and helicoptery.
In the end Alice's trip to Wonderland here is too vaguely sketched not to draw a smirk when she's passed a soft drink at a party - and something else, with the kids around her chanting "button button - who's got the button?" as they put the white cap-like object in their mouths. The cap, I guess, was acid. Alice notes in the diary voiceover it was the first time she felt beautiful, once she let go and symbolically died, it's the first and last time her experience seems believable. That's what really happens! Alas, it's all downhill from there. Seconds later her new boyfriend calls, she goes running, starts doing coke just a few short scenes later and a few after that is 'hooked' on a regimen of her mom's tranquilizers and "mixed bags" -- uppers and downers -- (though not speed apparently, since she does that for the 'first time' later). The confusion over what drugs she's doing might not be in the book, but I wouldn't be surprised if it is. Not that I doubt the novel's authenticity, just that THIRTEEN did it better.
Oh yes. That really is Robert Carradine, above, as the sleazy druggie boyfriend. Allow it.
In the end, for all its vague twisting and avoiding the gritty details - GO ASK ALICE is fascinating as a cultural touchstone seen by nearly everyone my age when we were kids, and that's enough to make it 'important' as a factor in the larger teen drug equation. It's the movie that taught us to fear psychedelics as much as heroin, coke, pot, etc. and in the process it taught us that adults like the ones who made the film knew less about drugs than we did. Yet ALICE still works - the performance from Jamie Smith-Jackson is spellbinding - she goes through so many changes so fast she barely seems like the same person, and there's no quick short happy ending for this girl, just one trial after another. But Alice endures, even thrives, finds herself... moving along - like the Airplane song goes, she is some kind of a mushroom, and so is the film surrounding her --both have adapted to thrive even in mounds of parental misunderstanding, hysteria, misinformation--in short, shit.
For if drugs were legal, she wouldn't be having these problems. Kids will always be snickering jerks to parents - but if the parents have the drugs, and the kids want some, then they better behave.
The thing is, if you take some acid and have a beautiful, spiritual experience, the next time you visit the suppliers you'll believe them when they say heroin and coke are even MORE beautiful. You trust the dealers over your parents since your parents are clearly just grasping at straws, trying to warn you off something they don't themselves understand but probably could really benefit from as far as escaping their plastic fantastic delusions. If you're taught to think all drugs are bad, then all drugs become good once you have even one good experience. I believe that if psychedelics and pot were legal a whole new shift in the drug war would take place and the scummy leeches like Alice's boyfriend would be down to just the nasty shit like crank and coke to make their living. But as long as you make spiritually transformative chemicals like DMT, psilocybe and LSD illegal it's like you're giving a bunch of sleazeball Manson-types the powers of Jesus and then wondering why no young people are snoozing through your grandma's church. Go ask Alice, I think she'll know... that you played yourself, America, in trusting the sneakiest, most unreliable drug dealer of all, the government.