If you think hardcore fans of science fiction tend to be an odd bunch, what does that say about the creators of the genre? In the case of cult favorite Philip K. Dick, best known for “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, the basis for “Blade Runner”, even his best friends would have to admit the man was at least a bit eccentric, if not a few sandwiches shy of a picnic. Dick’s fiction tended to center around questions of reality and identity, and the new documentary “The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick” makes it clear that these questions haunted the author himself until his death in 1982.
The bulk of “Gospel” is comprised of talking-head interviews with luminaries such as Robert Anton Wilson, author of the Illuminati trilogy, and Paul Williams, who interviewed Dick for a 1974 Rolling Stone profile that elevated the author’s reputation from the underground. These interviews are linked by animated interludes, featuring a cartoon Philip K. Dick mouthing to the writer’s actual voice, courtesy of audio clips from interview tapes made by Williams and others. The portrait that emerges is as fascinating and unnerving as any of Dick’s fiction. We learn of a 1971 break-in at Dick’s house, during which valuable papers were apparently stolen from a safe that was blown open with explosives. Dick’s friends speculate that the safe may in fact have contained heroin, as Dick was basically hosting an open house for young druggies in the early 70’s and was quite taken with illegal narcotics himself. There is an attempted suicide, and then the arrival of “the Xerox missive” – a letter Dick predicted would kill him. And most peculiar of all, a series of visions which consumed Dick for most of the last decade of his life, causing him to all but give up fiction in order to focus on his “Exegesis”, a 10,000+ page attempt at coming to terms with the meaning of life.
The friends who speak of Dick in the documentary are a curious bunch themselves, but they have in common a respect and affection for the late author that comes through in their stories, no matter how outlandish. The animated segments, as well as a pulsating sci-fi soundtrack, evoke a tone of paranoia that seems to mirror Dick’s worldview. “Gospel” is clearly a labor of love, designed to appeal to fans and novices alike. Its goal is summed up neatly in the title card that ends it: “Now go read some PKD.”