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DIRECTED BY: Conrad Rooks
FEATURING: Conrad Rooks, Jean-Louis Barrault, William S. Burroughs, Paula Pritchett
PLOT: A wealthy young American travels to Europe to receive treatment for his alcohol and drug addiction, fighting his urges, reflecting on his hedonistic past, and dreaming of more tranquil times.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: With a sometimes-poetic, sometimes-pretentious look at the travails of drug addiction and a fervent dedication to nonlinear storytelling, Chappaqua is messy but unusually sure of itself. There’s little doubt that first-time filmmaker Rooks got exactly the movie he wanted, and that movie is a surreal anti-narrative that by turns puzzles, annoys, and astonishes.
COMMENTS: The opening crawl is essentially the hero’s confession: in an effort to combat the alcoholism that began at the age of 14, our protagonist—Russsel Harwick, the alter ego of writer-director Rooks—turned to an impressive number of alternatives, including marijuana, hashish, cocaine, heroin, peyote, psilocybin and LSD. It’s the peyote that offers hope of breaking the cycle of rotating addiction, as a nightmare convinces him he’s hit rock bottom and leads him to seek a cure. Enjoy this moment; it’s the last time in Chappaqua where anyone makes an effort to explain what’s going on.
Chappaqua is Conrad Rooks’ barely disguised autobiographical account of his own struggles with drugs and drink, and he is bracingly frank about the depths to which he fell. He is selfish, rude, prone to breaking rules, and pathetic in pursuit of his next fix. We get to see what it’s like to operate in a drug-induced fog through such tools as an unsteady handheld camera, comical shifts in tone and perspective, and even a shocking black and white posterized vision of Manhattan. As a visualist, Rooks is rich with ideas. On the other hand, Russel is kind of unbearable to be around. (When he tussles with Burroughs in the writer’s cameo as an intake counselor, I half-hoped that Burroughs might pull a page out of his own history and shoot him.)
And yes, it’s that William S. Burroughs. Rooks hung out in New York with a number of future leading lights of the counterculture, and has said that he made Chappaqua after efforts to bring Naked Lunch to the screen fell through. But Burroughs is still a big part of this film even aside from his cameo, as Rooks used the author’s cut-up technique, deliberately editing out of order and throwing scenes in at random places, sometimes overlaid atop other scenes.
How Conrad Rooks came to be in the company of the likes of Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg (a fellow cameo beneficiary, annoying crowds by the Central Park reservoir by chanting and playing a harmonium) is a major component of any discussion of Chappaqua. An Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: CHAPPAQUA (1966)