Movie Review: The Threee Geniuses: The Re-Death Of Psychedelia
The camp sensibility of public access TV — typically unintentional — and the camp sensibility of ’60s underground cinema — totally intentional — collide with all the ferociousness of two freight trains ramming into each other at top speed in the night in The Threee Geniuses: The Re-Death of Psychedelia DVD.
The Threee Geniuses was a cult public access show produced for 10 years in L.A. by Dan Kapelovitz, Jon Shere and Tim Wilson. Although I haven’t watched a ton of public access, but I believe I can confidently say that no other public access show in the history of cable TV, in fact probably no other show in the history of television, period, ever looked like what the Threee Geniuses put on.
Maybe you haven’t seen much public access either, but you know the drill: Cheap video. Cheap, barren sets. Fringe characters either sitting in cheap chairs talking about monotonous subjects or performing awful music and/or dancing numbers. Well, The Threee Geniuses have all that, but they take that basic set-up and jam it through a psychedelic blender of distorting visual effects that rob their shows of any semblance of normality.
Somehow, Kapelovitz, Shere and Wilson were able to finagle their way to, using their phrase, “go ape-shit” on the public access equipment during each show, performing rapid fire A/B switching on the control decks, blasting modulation equipment to extremes, spastically zooming in and out with the cameras and other hair-brained manipulations that should have burst any other studio into sparks and ashes, but amazingly did not.
As the Geniuses pursued their horrifically distorting effects during each project, for their videotaped subjects, they followed the Jack Smith and Andy Warhol theory of filmmaking: Assemble a big cast of weirdos, turn a camera on them and let them “perform” until they get bored. Although, the Geniuses had to cut their show at around 30 minutes whether their cast actually got bored or not. One particular episode on the DVD especially recalls the big writhing on the ground scenes of Smith’s Flaming Creatures, but in technicolor and without the exposed genitalia.
The Re-Death of Psychedelia DVD runs about two-hours long, although it’s near impossible to tell exactly how many episodes are on it. One can assume where one episode ends and another begins based on studio set-ups, but that might be a fool’s game. Even the chapter selection on the disc is confounding.
There are some actual flashes of genius in this combustible combination of technological and physical freakishness and all of it is oddly fascinating to watch, less for what is actually going on and more for wondering what bizarre vision will flash by next. For that reason, and with no clear breaks in any of the action, the DVD is both tough to turn off to give your senses a break and tough to watch in one long two-hour chunk. However, with no plot, nor rhyme, nor reason to any of it, every individual viewer can make his or her own tolerance standards.
Also, at several points while watching the DVD, I had started to wish that there were two editions of each Threee Geniuses episode: A hideously distorted one that actually exists, and a version without all the distortion. Maybe that version would have been the typical public access nonsense, but there’s some truly bizarro characters who appear on the show, including Stangelyne, a hulking transvestite bodybuilder, and Francine Dancer, an obese, thong-wearing belly dancer. Also, one episode cuts in clips from Caveh Zahedi’s short doc about himself tripping on mushrooms I Was Possessed By God.
The Re-Death of Psychedelia is an object and a cultural artifact more than it is just a TV show to be enjoyed. It is timeless as well as a moment in time snatched from the airwaves. It is a snapshot of L.A. weirdness and it is all of us. It’s a trip, a journey and locked in a single TV studio. The Re-Death of Psychedia is anything our psyches can process.
Watch the trailer: