The study of the psychological effects of LSD was fairly widespread in the United States and the UK during the 50’s and 60’s producing thousands of pages of research. Cary Grant, Federico Fellini and even Bill Wilson, cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, all took LSD under very legal psychiatric supervision in the 1950’s.
The U.S. Central intelligence agency also conducted thousands of experiments with LSD and other drugs on subjects both willing and otherwise during the 50’s and 60’s through a clandestine operation code named MKUltra. The CIA was testing the effects of LSD in part to find out if the mind-bending hallucinogen could be used as a thought-control substance. MKUltra came the attention of the general public in the mid-1970s. Hearings and a collection of declassified documents have revealed all sorts of insane mental experiments like subjects being observed while tripping for up to 77 straight days and dosing random people without telling them that they were about to have their minds blown and then subjecting them to hours of interrogation.
Is the clip below a “CIA sponsored trip” as the YouTube poster’s title indicates or just one of many psychological experiments conducted openly by U.S. medical practitioners before LSD’s official ban? I’m not sure, but it certainly gives an indication of the bizarre clinical nature of what these government sponsored “psychological evaluations” might have been like. The subject in the video, entitled Schizophrenic Model Psychosis Induced by LSD 25, at least seems to be perfectly willing to go along with the test in this case. He reveals himself to be Bill Millarc, a 34-year-old painter from Los Angeles. As the video begins, the doctor, Nicholas A. Bercel, M.D. of the University of Southern California Medical School’s Department of Physiology (himself the very first American to drop acid, in 1951), gives Bill a dose of 100 liquid micrograms of LSD and begins to narrate Bill’s trip while conducting an interview throughout the entire experience. (Interestingly, the opening credits state “Material furnished through the courtesy of Sandoz Pharmaceutical Co.” Sandoz is the same Swiss company for which Albert Hoffman was working when he both famously and accidentally discovered LSD’s hallucinogenic effects back in 1943.)
Before long, Bill starts to report a few changes in perception. The rug’s pulsating. He has a very pleasant feeling of nausea. He feels like he’s hearing the singing of angels. It’s a very odd thing to watch as the guy tries to stay focused enough to answer the doctor’s questions as he starts to go further and further into “the zone.”
Many of us have seen the drawing circulating around the Internet where people make art under the influence of various controlled substances. Here, the doctor does something similar by having Bill draw a charcoal rendering of a person summoned to the room early in the trip. Later, as Millarc seems to be just about flipping his lid, the doctor asks him to draw the same person. As you can probably imagine, the second picture’s a little different from the first one.
Truth be told, I haven’t done acid in years and, thankfully, all of my experiences were eye-opening ones, but I can’t imagine tripping balls and having the doctor in this clip breathing down my neck the whole time. At one point the doctor claps his hands to snap Millarc out of what seems to be a particularly revelatory moment and Millarc becomes obviously annoyed:
“I was getting somewhere and you interrupted it. I was sort of getting somewhere I suppose.”
American Bandstand with Dick Clark was a staple of American TV. Beginning in 1956, the clean-cut Clark hosted the program, staying at the helm for over thirty years. The show featured teenagers and young adults dancing to pop music, as well as musical acts. As previously acknowledged by Dangerous Minds, Clark had a fair amount of interesting up-and-comers appear on his show, including the Syd Barrett-fronted Pink Floyd, Captain Beefheart, and a young man by the name of Prince.
After the Sex Pistols imploded in early 1978, singer John Lydon would soon shed his “Johnny Rotten” skin, reinventing himself with a new band, Public Image Ltd. In April 1980, PiL were touring America for the first time, supporting album #2, which was a double LP. For Second Edition (originally released as Metal Box), the group abandoned the rock found on their debut, producing a sprawling post-punk opus that was both weird and danceable (think Can meets Chic). It’s an innovative and unique work—in other words, not exactly the kind of stuff that normally makes it onto American television.
Public Image Ltd’s appearance on American Bandstand aired on May 17th, 1980. Moments after “Poptones” begins, the camera catches Lydon sitting off to the side of the Bandstand podium, seemingly unsure what to do. Soon he’s up and dancing about, trying to involve the studio audience.
But the crowd ain’t cooperating, so Lydon takes the next step, heading into the throng (ala Iggy) to force the issue.
The timid audience, largely consisting of teenagers, seem both excited and scared by the singer, and they take even more encouraging to break TV protocol, with Lydon physically pushing, shoving, and finally pulling spectators onto the platform. All the while, the former Rotten isn’t even bothering to keep up with the lip-syncing—a very punk thing to do, right? Well, there was a reason for it and all the anarchy, which Lydon later explained in his autobiography:
It all got off on the wrong foot when we arrived and they suddenly informed us that it would be a mimed thing. Our equipment hadn’t arrived in time, apparently, but we soon got even more upset when they said, ‘Oh no, you couldn’t play it live anyway, just mime to the record.’
They’d made up some edited versions of “Poptones” and “Careering,” and gave us a cassette to check it out beforehand. ‘Oh my God, they’ve cut it down to that? I don’t know where the vocals are going to drop. What are we supposed to do?’ None of us knew. Just thinking about trying to sing it like the record was…aarghh! You can fake it with an instrument but you can’t as the singer. ‘Okay, so you’ve cut out the point and purpose, it’s like removing the chorus from the National Anthem, just because it makes for an allotted time slot on a TV show. That’s arse-backways!’
The calm before the storm: PiL backstage
More after the jump…
In 1977, a short film was produced in Britain to discourage children from playing on the railway lines and vandalizing trains—both problems in England at the time. But the documentary-style production did more than that: it scared the knickers off of kids and riled up their parents. The subsequent controversy surrounding this educational short was so great that it was ultimately banned. Even today, watching it is a shocking experience not soon forgotten.
Commissioned by British Transport Films (BTF) to be shown in schools, The Finishing Line (1977) is perhaps the most notorious educational film ever produced. The 20 minute short is akin to a gory episode of The Twilight Zone, or a Rod Serling-directed fake documentary. The atmosphere is so odd and the child body count so high, that it’s a wonder anyone thought this was a good idea to show to kids (the ages of the target audience was eight through twelve). Put simply, it’s a child’s nightmare come to life on the screen.
The film was directed by John Krish, a BTF veteran; Krish’s The Elephant Will Never Forget (1953), which documented the end of London’s tram system, is still one of the organization’s most popular movies. In a 2013 interview with the magazine devoted to blood spilled on the screen, Fangoria, the 90-year-old Krish said he was surprised BTF even wanted to make The Finishing Line:
I came up with this idea of a sports day on the railway line, and I was absolutely sure they would turn it down so that I could get on with something else, and bugger me, they loved it. They loved it! The psychologist in the British Transport’s employ said, ‘This is exactly what we need!’
The Finishing Line begins in a festive atmosphere of children and adults gathering for what looks like a day of fun, but the mood quickly turns foreboding, when medical personal appear with preparations for the inevitable carnage that will take place.
In the film, various events are staged on or near the train tracks. A kind of dystopian reality is presented, where games of life and death are the norm. At times, it brings to mind the black comedy Death Race 2000 (1975), in which racecar drivers earn points by killing pedestrians, but there’s no laughing at The Finishing Line. Here, children lose their lives in games staged by adults, and there is little mourning for the dead. In this world, there is no such thing as “innocence.”
Krish’s documentary-style filmmaking creates a tone that is completely unsettling. Weirdly, the film is staged as a child’s fantasy (what kind of kid would fantasize about his classmates being killed?!), yet the realistic look of the film could still be misinterpreted by a young person as an event that actually happened. If nothing else, the shear amount of gore and dead bodies is enough to upset any pre-teen viewer.
Though the director claims it was unintentional, The Finishing Line contains elements of the horror genre. For the last event, Krish filmed the kids walking briskly through a dark tunnel, capturing it in such a way that the children approach the camera as shadowy figures. The scene resembles something straight out of future horror films The Brood (1979) and Children of the Corn (1984). There’s no music, just the sound of hundreds of shuffling footsteps coming closer and closer. It’s very creepy.
Krish wanted the final moments to resemble the carnage of a war zone after a battle, and the sight of adults and teenagers carrying a hundred or so dead kids—symbolically laying them across the tracks, and doing so with a complete lack of emotion—is truly startling.
“The cumulative effect is shocking, and must have been all the more so for the young audiences to whom the film was screened. Not surprisingly, it immediately generated controversy, even becoming the subject of a Nationwide (BBC, 1969-84) television debate following a television screening of the film. Some commentators and parents worried that children would be traumatized, others that it might actually encourage copycat vandalism. Many defended the film as an appropriately tough response to a serious problem. Nonetheless, in 1979 the film was withdrawn and replaced by the much softer Robbie.” (BFI Screenonline)
All told, Krish has had four of his pictures removed from circulation, telling Fangoria, “I’m the only documentary director who’s had four films banned! And I rejoice in that.” In 2003, he was honored with a retrospective, which included the first public airing of The Finishing Line in over two decades.
Though it may have been inappropriate for the audience it was created for, The Finishing Line stands as a fascinating and significant film from a director still getting his due. It’s a disturbing and strange little picture—it’s also unforgettable.
The short is available for purchase via British Transport Films Collection Vol.7 – The Age Of The Train, and as a bonus on the DVD of Captured, another of Krish’s banned works.
Here it is, The Finishing Line:
Paul Krassner started his trailblazing periodical of radical countercultural satire, The Realist, in 1959 as a reaction to what he saw as a lack of humorous political commentary targeting the sometimes ridiculous, often ominous issues of the day. His intention was to create sort of an adult MAD magazine, a publication to which he was frequent contributor. The Realist became one of the most celebrated underground publications of all time and, with the exception of a hiatus between 1974 and 1985, remained in print until 2001.
Krassner himself was not only the driving force behind the The Realist but was also a child violin prodigy, a founding member of the YIPPIES, a stand-up comedian and an all-around pretty damned funny guy. If you’re not familiar with Krassner’s sense of humor, you could find worst places to start than The Realist’s “FUCK COMMUNISM” poster published in 1963.
The poster in question designed by long-time MAD magazine art director and Realist contributor John Francis Putnam was meant to be not only hilarious, but also a linguistic conundrum to the knee-jerk set. You know “Better dead than red and all, but the F-word is just so filthy.”
Here’s Kurt Vonnegut addressing the poster in his forward to Krassner’s 1996 collection entitled The Winner of the Slow Bicycle Race: The Satirical Writings of Paul Krassner:
Paul Krassner … in 1963 created a miracle of compressed intelligence nearly as admirable for potent simplicity, in my opinion, as Einstein’s e=mc2. With the Vietnam War going on, and with its critics discounted and scorned by the government and the mass media, Krassner put on sale a red, white and blue poster that said FUCK COMMUNISM.
At the beginning of the 1960s, FUCK was believed to be so full of bad magic as to be unprintable. COMMUNISM was to millions the name of the most loathsome evil imaginable. To call an American a communist was like calling somebody a Jew in Nazi Germany. By having FUCK and COMMUNISM fight it out in a single sentence, Krassner wasn’t merely being funny as heck. He was demonstrating how preposterous it was for so many people to be responding to both words with such cockamamie Pavlovian fear and alarm.
A FUCK COMMUNISM bumper sticker was also released. Krassner said if anyone had a problem with it, the critic should be told to “Go back to Russia, you Commie lover.”
You can find the entire Realist Archive Project, a veritable treasure trove/rabbit hole of underground press glory, here. The site indicates that “The Mothers of the American Revolution,” listed as a contact at the bottom right of the poster, was a fictitious organization deployed by writers at The Realist when they needed to get in touch with individuals that wouldn’t otherwise respond to somebody affiliated with the controversial rag.
Now in his 80’s, Krassner is currently working on his first novel about a performer modeled after Lenny Bruce. His new book is Patty Hearst & The Twinkie Murders: A Tale of Two Trials.
In the clip below, we find Krassner in an interview with pioneering conservative TV talk show host, Joe Pyne—Bill O’Reilly’s “papa bear” as it were—in 1967. Pyne berates Krassner about his persistent use of the “filthiest four-letter word in the English language,” Krassner’s deep respect for Lenny Bruce, and a front-page headline in The Realist that asks what kind of deodorant Lyndon Johnson wears. Pyne is beside himself with disgust. Despite the annoying text overlay on the video, it gives a great sense of the kind of visceral hatred that Krassner could inspire amongst those who just couldn’t get down with his unrelenting irreverence.