Feature: This is Hollywood on drugs

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   March 31, 2003 at 3:58 PM   |   0 comments

LOS ANGELES, March 31 (UPI) -- A one-hour documentary that premieres Monday on AMC offers viewers a frank, blunt and entertaining examination of Hollywood's portrayal of drugs.

"Hollywood High" features interviews with such filmmakers as Oliver Stone, John Waters, Willem Dafoe and Gary Sinise -- all speaking about the film industry's fascination with the abuse of all manner of substances, from alcohol and tobacco to marijuana and heroin.

The film -- by Directors Guild of America nominee Bruce Sinofsky ("Paradise Lost") -- examines the campy treatments of such cult classics as "Reefer Madness" as well as the brutal reality of addiction depicted "Requiem for a Dream," the 2000 feature directed by Darren Aronofsky and written by Hubert Selby Jr.

In an interview with United Press International, Sinofsky said the filmmakers who talked with him for "Hollywood High" were very open about their own drug use and the ways in which drugs have been treated in movies.

"The honesty of a lot of these people surprised me," he said. "In a lot of these kinds of shows ... it's a lot of blah, blah, blah, blah, blah -- kind of like listening to the grownups in 'Peanuts.'"

Sinofsky has Stone talking about taking peyote himself during the making of "The Doors," and Dafoe talking at length about how wonderful drugs can make users feel.

Waters believes that "100 percent" of people attending screenings of "Fantasia" during the 1970s and '80s were stoned.

At the same time, the film makes the point emphatically that the consequences of abuse and addiction can be devastating.

"It's not black and white, per se," said Sinofsky. "There's a lot of different colors to people's feelings about this."

Peter Fonda, the star of the 1969 drug-themed classic "Easy Rider," is interviewed. So is Cheech Marin, half of the druggie comedy team of Cheech and Chong -- who gained fame for routines that were almost exclusively about getting high.

Sinofsky concedes that Cheech and Chong glorified pot, but he said their comedy also wound up putting it in a bad light.

"Cheech and Chong glorified pot," he said, "but it was funny because it made them look stupid."

More contemporary treatments of the issue, such as "Traffic" and "Requiem for a Dream," are more honest, said Sinofsky. For example, he said "Requiem for a Dream" goes beyond the ruinous effects of heroin to examine an older woman's addiction to coffee and even food.

Stephen Gaghan, the Oscar-winning writer of "Traffic," talks with Sinofsky about one of that movie's main ideas -- that the war on drugs is a failure. Selby, who adapted his own novel for the movie version of "Requiem for a Dream," told UPI the war on drugs is "madness" and said it has only led to greater police power.

"They've done absolutely nothing to diminish the use of (drugs)," he said, "but look at the power they have."

Sinofsky agrees.

"I think it's an impossible situation," he said. "I don't think we're ever going to get control of drugs. Gaghan says it well. As long as people want them, unless you close the borders and turn into big brother and make it a police state you can't control what people want."

Sinofsky's 1992 film "Brother's Keeper" -- which he produced, directed and edited jointly with Joe Berlinger -- was named Best Documentary by the DGA and the National Board of Review.

"Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills" -- about a small town coping with the worst crimes in its history -- won a Peabody Award and an Emmy, and was named Best Documentary by the DGA and the National Board of Review.

Sinofsky is working on a documentary about Chicago's legendary Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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