I first wrote about the movie version of Philip K. Dick’s Radio Free Albemuth last year when I came across its Kickstarter campaign to raise money to self-distribute in cinemas and saw it at a screening at Lincoln Center in New York. Since then, my estimation of the movie has risen in its resonance and relevance to the times. It’s opening in ten US cities this week and On Demand.
I spoke to writer-director John Alan Simon recently about the movie. I was curious about the decision to film the book over Dick’s long list of other novels.
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From Philip K. Dick – author of Blade Runner, Minority Report and A Scanner Darkly – his most prophetic science fiction thriller. In an alternate reality 1985, Nick Brady (Jonathan Scarfe), a record store clerk in Berkeley begins to experience strange visions transmitted from an extra-terrestrial source he calls VALIS. He moves to Los Angeles with his wife, Rachel (Katheryn Winnick), where he becomes a successful music executive with a secret mission to overthrow the oppressive, totalitarian American regime helmed by President Fremont (Scott Wilson). But what is VALIS? A higher consciousness from another reality, an alien life-form or perhaps, even God? With the help of his best friend, a science-fiction writer – Philip K. Dick himself (Shea Whigham) – and a beautiful, mysterious woman named Silvia (Alanis Morissette)- Nick finds himself drawn into a conspiracy of cosmic, mind-shattering proportions. Although it might cost them their freedom or even their lives, they join forces to bring a message of hope from the stars and reveal the dangerous truth.
“Ive had a close-to-lifelong interest in Philip K. Dick,” said Simon. “I read him in college and earmarked mentally two novels that I felt a real affinity to one day adapt and try to produce as feature films. One of them was Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, the other was Radio Free Albemuth. At the time when we were initially talking to the agent for the estate, I didn’t really know the autobiographical aspect of Radio Free Albemuth. The novel had been published ten years after Philip K. Dick’s death, around 1985. It just wasn’t that well known yet about Dick’s actual visionary experiences with the entity that he called VALIS, or Vast Active Living Intelligent System, as he termed it in Radio Free Albemuth.”
The novel had been considered a lost, or previously unknown, novel that Dick had submitted to his publishers in 1976 but was rejected after he refused to make changes he disagreed with. It was written in the later period of his career and not one of the many written quickly during his most prolific period in the Sixties when he had to quickly dash off several books in order to pay his bills. It was carefully plotted and written, and one of his most personal, since it deals with his own mystical experiences and increasingly Gnostic ruminations that would be explored in his last novels Valis, The Divine Invasion and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, which were not exactly Science Fiction. Simon also currently holds the rights to film Valis, which is a bold move, and I asked him how that came about.
“The reason we ended up with the Valis rights as well was that the estate felt that they were such similar properties, mainly because of what I consider an erroneous view that Radio Free Albemuth was in a way simply a rough draft of Valis. That’s not accurate based on the research I’ve done and the folks that I’ve talked to about Phil…
[read the full interview at Bleeding Cool]
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