Psychedelic S.F.

"I am stoned," the captain says gravely, his face in half-light as the glowing spaceship controls leave trails in the darkness behind him. He and his intrepid crew have just smoked a nicely rolled joint, the perfect preparation for their fatal mission. In a psychedelic apocalypse future, planet Earth is doomed because sperm counts have gotten so low that nobody can reproduce. Elite crews of men have been sent to the far reaches of the galaxy to find "fertility" and a place to plant their last remaining seed. They are armed only with pot, booze, and a special pill that will make them potent -- granting them one last chance to inseminate whatever they can before they die.

Welcome to the world of Candy Von Dewd, the new movie from Jacques Boyreau and the gang at San Francisco's world-famous Werepad. For years the Werepad has entertained audiences with bizarro treats from its extensive exploitation-film archive in a groovy, fur-lined movie theater. Packed with weird horror, science fiction, psychedelia, and William Shatner, the Werepad collection is clearly Boyreau's inspiration for Candy Von Dewd. The flick is awash in trippy special effects, and its fragmentary, drug-addled plot never strays far from scenes that require lots of latex-clad go-go dancers. Candy, the film's eponymous heroine, is a sort of confusing cross between Barbarella and Austin Powers who arrives just in time to save the day.

Watching Boyreau's obsessively detailed re-creation of a 1960s science-fiction fantasy was jarring -- I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen S.F. that was so goofy, orgiastic, and colorful. With a few exceptions, all the S.F. movies of the past few years have been relentlessly, sternly cyber. Computers are tiny, vicious implants; pseudocybernetic heroes in black snort digital information like drugs; skies are made of sludge; and sex, if it happens at all, is magnitudes less erotic than gunplay. There are absolutely no go-go dancers of any kind.

Candy Von Dewd's aggressive 1960s nostalgia reminded me of another recent, although less appealing, indie S.F. movie: CQ, directed by Roman "Spawn of Francis Ford" Coppola, also a Bay Area local. CQ is set mostly during 1969, and it follows the toneless adventures of an angsty young filmmaker in Paris who is working on a movie about a Candy Von Dewd-like heroine named Dragonfly. The cheesy S.F. scenes from CQ's movie-within-a-movie -- complete with go-go boots, sparkly moonscapes, and a revolutionary leader who says, "We must be free to make love all day" -- are the best parts of the picture. They're nostalgia for the future, a future that people once imagined could be sexy, fun, and revolutionary all at the same time.

These days the future isn't fun. The revolution is grimy and depressing. S.F. flicks like the upcoming Matrix Reloaded, and even fantasies like The Two Towers, offer hope but only on the condition that we delay gratification forever. And movies with "hard science" themes like Minority Report and soon-to-be-released thriller The Core depict science as drab and destructive, not psychedelic and life-affirming.

Perhaps that's why young S.F. filmmakers are turning back to old visions of the future. They're searching for ways to tell new stories about what's coming next, stories that don't have the bulging muscles of Reagan-Bush America and aren't set to the tune of punk rock. They're trying to imagine what it meant to create "high-tech" computer consoles with buttons the shape and color of lollipops. They're looking for planets full of dope-smoking alien kids instead of slimy, flesh-eating hive minds.

Who knows if this is a good thing? Maybe the new wave of psychedelic S.F. will just inspire a few more people to buy candy-colored iMacs and get really into laser light shows. But I hope movies like Candy Von Dewd, however small and silly they may be, are a sign that people are rethinking the future.

And none too soon, either, what with government oppression getting more trippy every day. Apparently, various officials have been removing sex-education material from the National Cancer Institute Web site, which is run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Someone -- no one at the CDC is saying who -- replaced information on birth control with the scientifically dubious "fact" that abortion causes cancer. What's next? Does gay sex cause cancer too?

Still, as long as go-go dancers shimmy to the light of the interplanetary vibe, there is hope for sex in the future. And hope for drugs too. Recently, nonprofit pharmaceutical company Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies got permission to start running a stage-one clinical trial on MDMA. And where do you suppose the review board was that finally gave MAPS the go-ahead to test this psychedelic drug on human subjects? San Francisco.

'Candy Von Dewd' plays in a double bill with Zardoz Jan. 15-16, 7 p.m., Four Star Theater, 2200 Clement, San Francisco, (415) 666-3488.

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who often clicks the heels of her sneakers together and whispers, "There's no place like home." Her column also appears in Metro, Silicon Valley's weekly newspaper.

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