Review: ‘Synthetic Pleasures’

If MTV and the Discovery Channel joined forces to produce a documentary, it probably would look and sound a lot like "Synthetic Pleasures."

If MTV and the Discovery Channel joined forces to produce a documentary, it probably would look and sound a lot like “Synthetic Pleasures.”

Iara Lee’s debut feature is a frenetic and facile montage intended as an overview of the various ways individuals are using technological and pharmaceutical innovations to enhance and alter their lives. Unfortunately, Lee’s reach far exceeds her grasp, and her pic, by turns intriguing and annoying , offers too little about too many things.

Everything from nanotechnology to virtual reality is grist for Lee’s warp-speed mill, Pic begins with glimpses of attempts to create artificial environments — Ocean Dome in Japan, Treasure Island in Las Vegas — that are “improvements” over what nature has to offer. Second third, arguably the pic’s strongest section, deals with genetic engineering, plastic surgery and other techniques employed to enhance human bodies. The most bizarre of the talking-heads interview subjects: Orlan, a French performance artist who adjusts her body with plastic surgery every few months as some kind of aesthetic statement.

Final third of “Synthetic Pleasures” covers, among other things, mood-altering drugs (particularly Prozac, so-called smart drinks and cybersex. Former LSD guru Timothy Leary is trotted out to pontificate about the joys of self-prescribed drug therapy. Other interviewees babble in banal generalities. (“We’re just beginning to understand the human brain.” Oh, really?) Bulk of this segment is devoted to ways people can find companionship — and satisfy lust — through CD-ROMs and the Internet.

“Synthetic Pleasures” covers a great deal of well-trodden ground and doesn’t stay long enough in any one place to uncover much that is new. Even when Lee does present something that arouses genuine interest, she is too eager to hop off to something else before she has fully covered her topic. With its nonstop barrage of information and imagery, pic plays like a long and ultimately unsatisfying session of channel surfing.

Synthetic Pleasures


A Caiprinha Prods, production, Produced by George Gund. Directed by Iara Lee,


Camera (color), Toshifumi Furusawa, Marcus Hahn, Kramer Morgenthan; eidtors, Andreas Troeger, Stacia Thompson; music, Mike Kandel, Single Cell Orchestra, Ilaruami Hosono; sound (Dolby), Antonio Arroyo, Matthew Sigal, Yoshitera Takahaschi, Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival, Sept. 11, 1995. Running time: 83 MIN.
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