Anyone who's had to, helplessly, watch as cocaine's surge of availability in the late 1990's destroyed their friend's likability is liable to get a sad shudder of recognition at the sweaty grandiosity of Charlie Sheen's recent interviews. Gone is the unfazed lad who could get a laugh even narrating hackneyed PLATOON lines like "They're the best I've ever seen, grandma," not to mention all his HOT SHOTS films. Where did that Charlie go, the deadpan comedic genius Charlie? Now people laugh but not in the way he thinks. He's gone the same place so many of my friends went while I was first getting sober and cocaine was changing the face of an NYC party scene that hitherto had been all about fun, safe booze, ecstasy, and indoor cigarette smoking. This blog may be called Acidemic, but not all drugs are equal. Cocaine is not psychedelic, it is the anti-acid Christ.
But here's a fascinating tidbit: the whole history of early Hollywood is adrift in cocaine, especially as it was legal and even a key ingredient in Cocoa Cola up until 1914!! Hey, it's not something Cocoa Cola is proud of, and yet their advertisments of happy, singing faces all but hint there still is a bit left... but there isn't, all thanks to an epidemic of toothless cokeheads (the 'real thing'!) lingering around the drugstore soda fountains circa the turn of the century. D.W. Griffith even made a short film about it, 1912's FOR HIS SON:
Of course not everyone was so uptight. Check out Douglas Fairbanks' 1916 MYSTERY OF THE LEAPING FISH!
To explain this strange film, I turn to the distinguished Ed Howard in Only the Cinema:
The Mystery of the Leaping Fish is an absurd, utterly bizarre farce, an unlikely silent film whose hero is the drug-addicted and wildly incompetent detective Coke Ennyday (Douglas Fairbanks). This weird little short has an impressive pedigree, featuring the writing talents of none other than Tod Browning (!), an uncredited D.W. Griffith (!!), and prolific intertitle scribe Anita Loos, whose soon-to-be husband John Emerson directs. It's hard to know why all this talent needed to be concentrated in one place, though, since the film is basically a really silly, hilarious one-man show with a succession of physical gags designed to suit its star's strengths. Fairbanks drives the action singlehandedly; his exuberant physicality and goofy facial expressions are continually at center stage, and when there's something he can't do outright, a bit of subtle backwards-running film is sufficient to pull off some of the wilder gags, where he seems to go leaping impossibly into the air. The film is an unabashedly pro-drug comedy, presumably made in an era before widespread anti-drug regulation.
Lastly, let's not forget the music of the era, particularly this favorite dittie of mine and my homies: