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By David Finkelstein | December 23, 2003

This film is made entirely from found footage, mostly from educational films, which seem to date from the 1950s and 1960s, concerning psychological experiments and mind control. Throughout the film we see snippets from a film of a psychiatrist’s interview with “Richard,” a very confused, aggressive man who may have been an unwilling participant in an experiment in which the CIA gave doses of LSD to ordinary people in order to study their reactions. We also see fragments from a film about a team of child psychologists doing a coercive experiment on a small boy, in which they alternately reward him with hugs, ask him to perform ordinary cognitive tasks (“Place the brick on top of the block, Rickie..”) and badger him about his (possibly repressed) memories. All of the images in this complex collage are drawn from films in which scientists study and manipulate people’s minds, in ways that seem to have nothing to do with actual science and everything to do with the domination and control of people. The soundtrack is mixed from music which is typical of films from that era, alternately ominous and kitschy, which has an extremely creepy effect.

Normally I am not at all a fan of the “found footage” genre. I usually find myself wishing that a filmmaker could come up with his own images, rather than rummaging around in film history in search of a statement. But the way that Gault has assembled this collage is, in a word, masterful. Each editing cut has a way of connecting one shot to the next, through a word, a visual pattern, or a sound, yet cuts away before the banality of the original film source becomes apparent, building up a powerful crescendo of paranoia, until it seems like our entire culture is a conspiracy to hypnotize and enslave the common people. (Imagine believing such a thing, even for an instant!) A few, well placed frames of black separate some of the images, allowing us just enough time to both catch our breathes and have our fearful imaginations take over.

Gault uses found footage in an entirely justified way: to take a hard look at the film artifacts of our culture and reassemble them until they reveal hidden truths about us. By breaking apart these educational films and putting together the pieces so that they reflect off of each other in an enlightening way, he creates a cinematic poem of paranoia as a higher state of consciousness.

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