• Dirty Pictures

    Released By: Breaking Glass Pictures
    Released On: 11/22/2011
    Director: Etienne Sauret
    Cast: Alexander Shulgin
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    The Film:

    In 1966, former Harvard student Dr. Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin quit his job at Dow Chemical to devote his time to studying psychoactive drugs. Working with some therapists from a lab in his home, Shulgin synthesized an existing compound known as MDMA, which was then tested on a number of patients in therapy. Studies showed that “ecstacy” had positive effects on patients with psychological issues, giving them a slight sense of euporia and well-being, and also helped to strengthen the doctor/patient bond. Not content to take other people’s word on how fantastic this compound was, Sasha decided to carry out further experiments on himself, using MDMA and a range of other psychoactive (and illegal) drugs.

    Etienne Sauret’s film Dirty Pictures attempts to tell the story of Shulgin’s life, mostly through interviews with the man himself. Also along for the ride are Shulgin’s wife, who is interviewed extensively, relatives, other scientists, and a DEA agent who has known the good doctor for years. Breaking up the monotony of the numerous talking heads are clips from television specials and news reports on Shulgin and the threat of the new illegal drug known as ecstacy, as well as footage from Psychedelic “summits”, acid festivals, and raves. But for some reason, the film doesn’t really ever get off the ground. With so many interviews, the viewer should expect some serious insight into Shulgin’s life, but instead, we end up with a bunch of information that could’ve been gleaned from glossing over a Wikipedia article.

    Some of the film comes off as more interesting than other parts, namely Shulgin’s primitive lab set back in the woods on his property; and a scene in which the police show up and startled to learn that Shulgin has peyote growing freely at their feet. And seeing the number of people impressed with his contribution to the world of drug experimentation is interesting, but counters what seems to be one of the points of the film…if he’s a scientist and MDMA is an important development in therapeutic research, how come the majority of people praising him are the ones taking the drug recreationally to make their glowsticks look cooler? By the time we get to the medical sceptic who rips apart Shulgin’s self experimentation and then talks about having his head frozen so that he can be cloned in 200 years to have sex with a bunch of strange women after his wife is dead, well….it can safely be said that the picture lacks focus.

    The copy on the back cover of Dirty Pictures says that it “examines Dr. Shulgin’s lifelong quest to unlock the mysteries of the mind”, but by the end of the film, all you get is the idea that Shulgin is a somewhat well-meaning chemist who quit his job to make drugs and get stoned. Not exactly the in-depth look that I was hoping for.


    Breaking Glass brings Dirty Pictures to DVD in a transfer that is somewhat disappointing. Though it’s not horrific, the 1.78:1 anamorphic video consists of some pretty nasty compression artifacts, and heavy interlacing in a lot of scenes. Because of the inclusion of many different sources, the picture quality is pretty varied. The Dolby Digital 2.0 track is adequate for the film, with volume being fairly consistent across the board. Dialogue-intensive, it doesn’t require a lot of dynamic range, and does the trick without being impressive.

    There are a couple of extras included as well; a photo gallery using stills from the film can be found with accompanying music, and a trailer for Dirty Pictures as well as 3 other trailers for Breaking Glass titles rounds the supplements off.

    The Final Word:

    As a mildly interesting fluff piece that would appear on Discovery Channel, Dirty Pictures is not bad. As a feature-length documentary, one gets the feeling that a lot more work could’ve been put into it.