Published Feb 01, 2003Clocking in at a nice, round 180 minutes, Peter Mettler's experimental documentary Gambling, Gods and LSD is certainly worthy of three hours out of your short, fragile life. It's a heady, transfixing meditation on the idea of meditation and transcendence itself. Just make sure you come to the theatre with a game attitude and a good night's sleep, as sometimes it's difficult to be this meditative without relaxing yourself into oblivion.
Whittled down from a 55-hour rough cut consisting of footage shot between late 1997 and early 1999, the movie follows various world events and non-events through Mettler's cycloptic lens, a sort-of celluloid third eye. In Toronto, his camera captures the enraptured convulsions of members of the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship Church. In Las Vegas, he visits a disturbingly articulate sex machine salesman, who designs self-contained pleasure units that recall devices of medieval torture. The banal neutrality of Mettler's native Switzerland is explored from self-cleaning public toilets to the "poodle racers" of Entlisberg, Zurich, and aspects of Indian society are documented from the silly to the sublime.
A close cousin of Chris Marker's seminal 1982 documentary Sans Soleil, the movie weaves in and around its various non-narratives, seducing the viewer with sound and vision that falls somewhere just short of the ecstatic. It also brings to mind the more story-bound musings of Richard Linklater's recent bong hit Waking Life. There are moments in this movie that truly inspire awe - most notably an unearthly shot of The Aladdin Hotel in Vegas imploding from the vantage point of a sleeping woman's hotel room across the street - and they are mixed with moments of banal beauty and glorious intricacy. Truth be told, for the modern-day heathen like me who feels watching a truly great movie is akin to a mini-spiritual awakening, Gambling, Gods and LSD is a lot like going to church. Just don't nod off in the front pew.