Thomas Pynchon: A Journey into the Mind of P, directed and produced by the brothers Fosco and Donatello Dubini, is not so much a documentary as it is a homage to that legendary recluse of post modern literature, who wrote books such as “V” and “Gravity’s Rainbow.”
The film is broken down into four appropriate sections: “Paranoia,” “Disappearance,” “Alien Territories,” and “Psychomania,” and its wildly mixed reviews are a bit perplexing. One would think that a film on such a non-conventional literary figure as Pynchon would at least attempt to be fairly non-conventional in approach. The Dubini Brothers do not disappoint there. But then, we’ve seen this type of reaction all too often.
A number of Beatles “fans” expressed outrage towards Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe. What made the Beatles so unique and timeless was they refused to buy into their “religious base.” Once they were elevated to near divine status, the artists’ response could easily have been to roll with what they (intentional or not) hit upon, follow the formula and keep that money machine rolling (aka: Elvis Presley). Instead, fans never quite knew what to expect of the fab four. The “White Album” was as certainly startling, perplexing and unexpected as “Revolver” had been. Of course, that didn’t keep the pseudo fans from mantling unrealistic expectations on the solo Beatles’ career or from ostracizing any and all experimentation in their gods’ name (Across the Universe).
Pseudo fans from the church of Kubrick did the same thing when that usurper Steven Spielberg dared to take on A.I., possibly the most sublime and exquisite film of the last ten years or more. The resulting film was actually quite true to Kubrick’s vision and even improved on it. A.I. also revitalized the art and career of Steven Spielberg.
Pynchon, that vastly complex enigmatic myth, 20th century literature’s wandering saint, modernism’s yeti, has also declined much advocated canonization. Thankfully, this film was made by true, dyed in the wool fans, not mere gold star wearing members of the Pynchon church/fan club.
Like Pynchon himself, the film is amusing, surreal, perplexing, anarchic, wry, self-mocking, speculative, subversive for the sake of being subversive, and ambiguous. One thing is for certain; A Journey into the Mind of P is hardly orthodox biography.
The bizarre score by The Residents (which surprisingly fits), impersonators, archival news footage, idiosncratic interpretations of 60’s rock, obsessive fans and literary critics are just part of this strange brew that make up the film (and literary critic George Plimpton provides the most memorable quote in the film: “He’s the sort of guy who could turn out an almanac in a week.”)
Wisely, the filmmakers do not try to decipher Pynchon’s work and instead, craft a film, inspired by Pynchon’s work. There is even an Indiana Jones like hot pursuit of the the author, with Pynchon finally being captured on camera for the first time in 40 years (sound to good to be true? It probabaly is).
Revealing more in regards to Pynchon’s biography, work, life details, would be the expected thing to do, so in the spirit of the film itself, ….