“Exterminate all rational thought,” commands the great William Burroughs as we enter Naked Lunch– sage advice, since not heeding his warning will leave you frustrated and confused as you wander around his mad, but brilliant world. Conrad Rooks’ Chappaqua requires a similar mindset; an exploration of what it’s like to go through drug withdrawal, the film is mostly a collection of images from all over the world and featuring some of the countercultures biggest icons: Jean-Louis Barrault, Allen Ginsberg, Swami Satchidananda, Ornette Coleman, Hervé Villechaize and even William S. Burroughs himself all play a part in this tale. It also features the great Moondog, The Fugs, and Ravi Shankar- all whom contribute music to the film as well (Shankar actually composed and performed the main score.)

As if that’s not enough offbeat star power, Rooks got the great American photographer, Robert Frank, to shoot this film for him, in both color and black-and-white, all over the world: Paris, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Jamaica, England, India, and of course the U.S. of A (Chappaqua itself is a town in New York.) I guess it pays to be the heir to the Avon fortune… sort of. Based on his own experiences battling drug addiction, Rooks’ narrative is a challenging one- you really can only understand it on a gut level, but on that level, it works well. Rooks wisely surrounded himself with great music to help push an otherwise dense narrative forward- Shankar’s score (and the other contributions) really help the medicine go down smoothly- especially when that medicine is LSD.

As experimental films go, this one works, though admittedly, part of its charm is immersing yourself in that mythical era of the Beats: watching Ginsberg chant his Hari Krishna tunes or Ornette Coleman pop up out of the blue. In that way, Chappaqua serves as a firsthand document for this thrilling, boundary-eroding time. It’s not a documentary in the traditional sense, but in the spiritual one.

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