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‘The Man With Kaleidoscope Eyes’ by Tim Lucas (review)

Written by Tim Lucas
Published by PS Publishing


The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes is the title of Alan Aldridge’s autobiographical art book from a few years back. This, however, is not that book.

No, THIS Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes is by author Tim Lucas and has a fascinating backstory attached to it that can be found in more detail online.

In a nutshell, director Joe Dante was going to make a movie with that name about the making of a movie—in particular the events leading up to the making of Roger Corman’s The Trip (1967), written by Jack Nicholson and starring Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, Dennis Hopper, and Susan Strasberg. Modern-day actress Illeana Douglas told me she was set for a role in Dante’s picture at one time but after numerous delays it looked like the film was never to be made.

Enter writer and film historian Tim Lucas, apparently involved with the aborted film’s screenplay. Tim has here opted to novelize the entire script! Along with his wife, Donna, Tim was behind the late, lamented, Video Watchdog digest magazine. This is a man who knows his stuff when it comes to movie obscurities and minutiae.

I’m a big fan of that transformational era of film. I’ve read a lot about it in the past and have seen most of the important movies connected to it, including The Trip. While I certainly grant its overall importance, it has never been one of my favorite ‘60s movies.

By way of full disclosure, I should also say I’ve known Tim Lucas for about three decades, since his very first published novel, Throat Sprockets.

That said, I’d tell you if this book was bad but it definitely isn’t.

The story starts with a Peter Fonda who sounds very much like Peter Fonda but make no mistake, this story is really about Roger Corman, the pioneer maverick low-budget filmmaker. Corman’s career was only about a decade old in this tale but, as written, he comes across like the veteran producer/director he already was. We see him in his office, we see him tearing his hair out over scripts and budgets, we see him taking meetings with studio heads and money men, getting high with Jack Nicholson. Making movies seems almost an afterthought to his day-to-day life.

Corman was a decade or more older than Nicholson and Fonda but he wasn’t exactly conservative. Much of the book deals with his younger cohorts dragging the open-minded auteur into the swinging part of the sixties.

Bruce Dern turns out to be the more strait-laced of the bunch—presuming that part is based on reality—and Lucas captures Dern’s familiar voice even better to my reading “ear” than he does anyone else’s. (Dern did not, however, win an Academy Award at any point as stated in the back of the book, despite two nominations.)

The Trip itself is largely a Hitchcockian MacGuffin in The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes, a goal sought by all and sundry but really just an excuse for the reader to spend some quality time with some familiar people in that most fascinating of decades—the 1960s.

Lucas succeeds in re-creating the ‘60s on the book’s pages the way Quentin Tarantino did on the screen in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I might say that he dropped perhaps a few too many ‘60s words and names to tie it all to the period—Metrecal, the Whisky, Doheny, Born Free, Herb Alpert, the Pranksters, the Airplane, John Phillip Law, Cashiers, Arnold Palmer, The Flintstones, Cronkite, Viet Nam, the Electric Prunes, 8-Tracks, Kona, Karloff, Pet Sounds, Hell’s Angels…you get the idea. It’s a non-stop litany of scene-setting name dropping.  It works…but it feels a tad overdone.

I’ve never met any of the characters in The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes but I’ve seen them and read about them so much I feel that I do know many of them, and Lucas captures them enough that they’re recognizable to me. Did they say all the words or do all the things he says here that they did? Of course not. That’s why this is fiction, rather than non-fiction. Like most biographical fiction, liberties are taken to get the point across rather than the actual 100% accurate details.

If you aren’t well-versed in the era or the radical filmmaking that was coming into play, this is still an exciting story, well-told. If you know a little bit about it all going in, though, The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes is, itself, a trip—a time travel trip back to a point where everything was changing and everything seemed possible, if only for that brief moment.

Booksteve recommends.


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