Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Charlie Sheen's Cinematic Cokehead Ancestors

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:


  1. Not a fan of cocaine (cue Eric Clapton music)… There’s no real way to be creative on it and it’s never packed the euphoric punch for me that others claim it has…

    In movies, it always makes me think of “Goodfellas” where the helicopter is following (one very paranoid) Henry Hill to the tune of “Gimme Shelter”…

  2. Agreed. The idea of having a legally cocaine-laced cocoa cola at a soda fountain in 1911 is pretty appealing, but other than that I have a huge resentment against it.. I hate what it did to me the few times I tried it (Mr. Hyde evil without any sense of liberation) and hate the way it stole my friends away....

    That said, I think it works for Scorsese especially in that scene you mentioned! And there's some pretty funny scenes in Donal Cammel's "Wild Side" with Christopher Walken and Anne Heche and Stephen Bauer and they all seem super coked up and its hilarious... but that's IT!!

  3. Ha ha hha ahhahah hilarious, coke fiends at the soda fountain! I mean, what if its still this way and thats why everybody is hooked??!!

  4. ...and let's not forget the Chaplin two-reeler EASY STREET (?) where Charlie haplessly sits his ass on a coke-filled syringe, and gets a serious bang!

    As for Sheen, i say, Go Charlie, GO. I'm so sick of all the other Hollywood nitwits who get themselves into a scrape and then make a big public deal out of their ham-handed contrition. It's refreshing to see Sheen taking his big public deal in the opposite direction. He's free to kill himself, after all. And if the media convinces us that it's big news, then it IS big news!!!

    On another note, we at O.M.R. have been appreciating the insights of ACIDEMIC ever since you shouted out to us back in '09. Keep up the good work, and we will try to BEGIN doing our own good work!

  5. God bless you, Otto Mannix! Glad to hear the report is recommencing issuance. You're right about Sheen, if he does flame out, let him do so grandly, ala Cagney in WHITE HEAT!

  6. When I think I think of how much money I saved by not enjoying cocaine, I feel rich.

    Wish I had the time to watch "for His Son" but I certainly enjoyed the song.

  7. Anonymous02 May, 2012

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...