Vancouver-based helmer Oliver Hockenhull’s docu feature “Aldous Huxley: The Gravity of Light” should be a lot more fun than it is. On paper, it must have seemed like a great idea to take an irreverent look at the ideas of the British writer via wacky dramatic sequences, some nifty animation and archival clips of Huxley himself. But the result is surprisingly dry and not nearly as droll as it’s intended. Having played in arthouse venues in several western Canadian cities earlier this year, docu could perhaps make a mark in some festival settings, but will likely click only with Huxley aficionados. Its unorthodox approach will make it a tough sell for the small screen.
Film makes it clear at the outset that this will not be a straight, chronological biography of Huxley’s life, but rather a free-form examination of the author’s thoughts on drugs, transcendence, technology and other concerns. There are lengthy clips from a 1957 interview with Huxley on the Canadian CBC web, and his erudite musings, though occasionally rather long-winded, stir up numerous still-relevant issues.
Hockenhull juxtaposes the grainy TV footage with an eclectic assortment of scenes, including everything from dramatizations of excerpts from Huxley novels to intellectual discussions about computer technology. There are many clips from a speech at a Huxley symposium given by Dr. Jean Houston, a U.N. adviser, who attempts to place Huxley’s work in perspective. Pic also includes poetic moments using electronic music, 3-D animated segs and downright silly sequences, such as one featuring a woman doing handstands.
There is much talk, both from Huxley and others, about the impact of technological change, the use of hallucinatory drugs and the place of spirituality in modern society, and helmer’s point is clearly that the author of “Brave New World” came up with philosophical stances that are still mightily pertinent.
But the lack of strong, original source material is a significant weakness. The heavy reliance on the 40-year-old CBC interview and one intellectual’s memories of Huxley in a speech limit the pic’s ability to deliver a complex portrait of the iconoclastic scribe. While it’s refreshing to see a director taking a hip, innovative approach to the docu genre, Hockenhull’s flighty, stream-of-consciousness tableaux too often become goofy or trite. Film still manages to raise intriguing questions sparked by Huxley’s writings, but the experimental style may well turn off many of the people interested in the writer.
Sinuous, electro-flavored music is used to good effect throughout.