gambling, gods and lsd (2002)


director: peter mettler

The best way to describe Peter Mettlerís three hour documentary on the human quest for transcendence is as an ambitious vacation video with an agenda. It starts under the flightpaths of Torontoís airport strip, and often pauses elsewhere in the world - in Las Vegas, Switzerland and India - under the roar of yet another jet plane taking off.

Mettlerís journey begins with a night-time stroll through a park, with a cigar-smoking friend who grimly chats about his battles with drugs, and moves on to the ecstatic crowds at an evangelical church meeting. In Las Vegas he talks to a high-tech sex shop owner, a woman whose trippy personal vision of meeting Christ may, she admits, have been a delusion, and a grieving man who keeps the bones of his wife in one of her old scarves, displaying them for the camera on the green felt of a card table.

In Switzerland, he talks with a depressive biologist about his philosophical anxieties, and a couple of ex-junkies about the peculiar satisfaction they found in heroin. All of these people seem genuinely stricken with some particular, abiding pain, but itís hard to overlook the very basic fact that most people, trying to articulate some personal experience of spirituality or their vision of the universe, end up talking a lot of rubbish. During several extended scenes, itís as if Mettler is trying to test our tolerance for psychobabble.

Drugs and plane travel are the unifying themes of Mettlerís journey, and it results in a film that has the disjointed, obsessive style inspired by the former, and the hopeless tedium typical of the latter. His languid camera work lingers on dazzling tricks of light and the movement of fog over mountains, and he stops frequently to listen to border guards and rickshaw drivers, to watch the poodle races in a Zurich park or the implosion of the Aladdin Hotel in Vegas.

Gods, Gambling and LSD is, by turns, either terrifically inspired or spectacularly boring. The digital video on which most of the film is shot is either starkly picturesque or drained of colour and texture, like the world seen through profound fatigue. Mettler may have been trying to give his film the strenuous, challenging feel of a real journey, and he has succeeded, but you canít help but wonder if there was some other way he could have made his very elusive point.