DOPE. A Film by Diane Rochlin and Sheldon Rochlin (1968).
DOPE. A Film by Diane Rochlin and Sheldon Rochlin (1968).
DOPE. A Film by Diane Rochlin and Sheldon Rochlin (1968).
DOPE. A Film by Diane Rochlin and Sheldon Rochlin (1968).

58.

DOPE. A Film by Diane Rochlin and Sheldon Rochlin (1968).

Np. (Santa Fe, New Mexico): privately distributed by Flame Schon (formerly Diane Rochlin), nd. (c. 2008). DVD PAL, colour, 89 mins.

“This is a feature documentary about a young girl’s descent into drugs. Shot in late-sixties London, we see ravishing Caroline - black makeup around her eyes and tattooed head to toe - become a junkie. We come to understand not only the drug lure of the era, but also the soul of a free spirit who is caught in the grip of forces she cannot penetrate or comprehend. Like a butterfly caught in a web, Caroline struggles against her fate, but its seductive attractions threaten to vanquish her” (blurb).

The film originated in an idea for a film about Vali Myers (briefly seen in "Dope"), then resident in Positano, Italy, and her plan to dance onstage with Donovan at the Royal Albert Hall. When the project fell through the Rochlins instead began filming Myers’ friend and acolyte from Positano, Caroline, who had moved to London and become an occasional (then regular) heroin user.

The resultant cinéma vérité, visually and sonically filtered through the drug-induced altered state of consciousness it set out to portray, provides a documentary montage of junkie life in London during the spring of 1967 (its original title, “Boots at Midnight”, referenced the chemists in Piccadilly where junkies would gather at midnight to fill their prescriptions).

Its multi-layered soundtrack, recorded on a Nagra and often using ‘found’ music captured from off-screen radios and stereos in various apartments, includes The Who, The Beatles, and, most evocatively, Tim Hardin and folksinger Geno Foreman, both heroin casualties themselves (the latter sings “Cocaine” as a refrain throughout).

Fleeting glimpses can be seen of the Roundhouse (with Chet Helms in attendance, visiting from San Francisco), probably shot at the second of two fundraising benefits held for International Times, ‘An Uncommon Market’, in March 1967; Granny Takes a Trip on the King’s Road; a screening at Better Books of “Vali”, the Rochlin’s earlier film on Vali Myers; Karma-Sigma, a boutique established by Simon Posthuma and Marijke Koger (unrelated to Alexander Trocchi’s Project Sigma); Greg Sams’s macrobiotic restaurant; Pete Brown; Marianne Faithfull (talking about poppers); the exterior of the UFO club (with a poster stating “No drugs or alcoholic beverages allowed on the premises”), and, most famously, about two minutes of footage of Pink Floyd performing at UFO (although the music heard is actually by Soft Machine).

The Rochlins edited the film in New Jersey in 1968 and signed a contract with the distribution arm of Leacock-Pennebaker Inc., though the deal foundered when it went bankrupt shortly after. “Dope” premiered at the Locarno Festival in October 1968 (under the title “Head”), and it was officially screened at the Whitney Museum in 1975.

Now regarded as an underground classic, it is no longer available on DVD (except as a bootleg). This copy was originally acquired directly from Flame Schon and is accompanied by her printed notes to the film (3pp.), and a hand-stamped, handwritten acknowledgment slip.

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