Synthetic Pleasures

on September 13, 1996 by Alex Albanese
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   A "Shape of Things to Come" for the '90s, "Synthetic Pleasures" is an intriguing documentary (or *.DOCumentary) of the extreme reaches of the emerging cyber-culture--one that is radically different from Bill Gates and the "Information Superhighway" of America Online. Exploiting both the inherent allure and fear of new technology, director Iara Lee creates a smart, whirlwind tour of today's outer limits, where your body, environment, viewpoint and identity can all be "synthetic."
   The film touches on artificial nature, virtual reality, bio-technology, cryonics, cybersex, smart drugs and plastic beauty--among other things. Although the wacko/freak show factor is a bit high (Timothy Leary rants predictably; Orlan, a French performance artist, reshapes herself through plastic surgery to a degree that would make even Michael Jackson balk), and there are a few easy laughs at the expense of pierced Rave-Dude interviewees, Lee has found some thoughtful commentators on our Brave New World and lets them speak intelligently. She also draws attention to some startlingly odd artificial aspects of modern life that are already accepted, from the shopping mall to the year-round indoor beaches and ski slopes of Japan.
   The film's major flaw is an over-reliance on visuals from computer animated shorts. Although 88 works are excerpted, the overriding visual aesthetic is deadeningly repetitive (muscular metallic robots marching endlessly through a cyber void), which begs a crucial point: "Unlimited potential" rarely results in unlimited achievement.
   Man has always sought control over nature, and "Synthetic Pleasures" announces loudly that man has now won in a meta-sense. But the film both celebrates and cautions the giddy embracing of our new paradigm; ultimate consequences may only be dimly perceived, but they are lurking out there.
Starring Timothy Leary, John Barlow, Orlan and R.U. Sirius
Directed by Iara Lee
Produced by George Gund
A Samba release. Documentary.
Unrated
Running time: 82 min
Tags: Starring Timothy Leary, John Barlow, Orlan and R.U. Sirius, Directed by Iara Lee, Produced by George Gund, Orlan and R.U. Sirius. Directed by Iara Lee. Produced by George Gund, Samba
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