A Teen’s Guide to Stoner Cinema

image by imp kerr

For too long film critics have focused on the drugs actors and directors are taking, when they should be looking at the audience

Here’s a quick guide to stoner cinema: 1) Get stoned. 2) Watch a movie or a TV show or go online and stream something. That is the guide. That is all you gotta do. Now if you are high or a teen or a high teen go ahead and read the rest of this until you don’t want to read anymore.

Cinema is getting old as heck. Stoner cinema too shows signs of calcifying into a collective DVD shelf of wacky men getting high and doing whatever. One of the earliest traditional drugs-are-fun films, The Mystery of Leaping Fish, is a 25-minute short featuring Douglas Fairbanks — later the first President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — doing a shitload of dope and solving a mystery (a case of missing dope). Over the past century of cinema, certain traditions made up by loser adults seem destined to never go the fuck away. Here’s Dr. Teens to assure you that stoner cinema is not to be defined by intoxicated viewings of ancient films about stoners (The Big LebowskiUp in Smoke). Stoner cinema is not even the puffs of smoke in the back rows of the midnight premiere of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle or the snootchied boochies of Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back. Abandon these shallow mythologies lest you reaffirm traditional boundaries of accepted spectatorial naughtiness.

The widespread understanding of stoner cinema is basically the high school English teacher who has totally read Palahniuk. Awful. Gross as hell. One-hundred percent wrongheaded in approach and method. Go for that only if you dig tradition and stagnation. All the cool teens will be over here with me knowing the truth about stoner cinema: It is not a genre and cannot be limited to a finite set of films. Stoner cinema is a mode of spectator power; it is a method of experience. Stoner cinema is “corrupting” films unused to the stoned gaze and shattering a TV show’s complacency in its own sense-making. Stoner cinema is real-time disruption of editing patterns and, through lighting up, lighting up the cinema’s flammable narrative structures.

Do not listen to someone who came of age in Clinton’s presidency (ever, really, but especially here) when they restrict the aesthetics of stoner cinema to the psychedelic or “so bad it’s good” film. Here are some simple starter tips you can use to find shit that might appeal to you. Some of the tips will be contradictory because stoner cinema is full of opportunities for both oppositional and enhanced-agreeable readings. Oh, dude, try smoking weed and reading this article. How fucked up would that be?

Stoner cinema is not about turning off your brain. Your brain is what is stoned, you gotta keep it around. If you turn off your brain you might as well not be stoned (don’t waste weed! What is wrong with you?). Turning off your brain is the dominant mode of sober spectatorship. Active, creative spectatorship is what stoned cinema is all about. As a creativity born from fucking the police, stoner cinema is well-suited for fucking the authors/auteurs. Liberate Ghosts of Girlfriends Past from its self-harming coherence. Read in the stylistic games in The Crocodile Hunter Movie: Collision Course a sarcastic premonition of two tragic deaths: Steve Irwin and Timothy Treadwell. Queue up a TV show and expose macro-rhythms that may only exist in your mind, but at least they exist somewhere.

Unsee the familiar. This old adult fucker Jean-Luc Godard accidentally said some hella smart words one time. He observed that every film is a documentary of its own making. That sounds crazy, like maybe he doesn’t know what a documentary is, but think about that shit. Like what if George Clooney just says those words because he wants to? Like the camera accidentally happens to be on and the whole thing is just some weirdo reality. This works particularly well with TV shows that use a small number of stage-bound sets or films full of familiar stars: Put your mind on set, consider the theater of performance before you. There is no illusion necessary because the act itself is sweet and powerful. If you watch a film with animal performers, consider that the animals have no fucking idea that they are in a movie. Hahaha that’s messed up. Those dogs and orcas are living life, playing honest games within the frame of multi-million dollar lies. Watch films, TV programs, and other videos your sober lens understands concretely and re-see the seams, the borders, the impossibilities.

The opposite can be true stoner cinema: the more-seeing of the dream world. Check out something wholly unfamiliar. For this mode I marathoned a Korean TV show called Pasta about this pasta chef. There’s kissing and cooking and yelling and the music’s all wacky. I had never seen any of the cast in anything else and I was unaccustomed to the experience of truly diving deep into a soap opera. I was unprepared for the intensity of the dramatized kitchen, and from being stoned I was more capable of intensely empathizing with the scenario. For all 20 episodes, the world of Pasta became its own universe of unforeseeable cause and effect. Clichés ceased to register in my brain and in their place flowed a pure spontaneity of action. I have no idea what Pasta intends to be and I could not care less about its definition from the perspective of a noncreative spectator. Wikipedia calls it a “workplace romantic comedy.” Sure, whatever, it is forever, to me, an unparalleled work of culinary fetishism, like if Iron Chef were all about the chefs getting horny about cooking. It is also a direct cinema: The images and sounds of the show affect my soul unmediated by any perceivable apparatus. It is my stoned show. It is my pure stoner cinema and the centerpiece of my personal canon. Expose your stoner cinema lens to new eras, styles, and traditions of filmmaking. Find your own Pasta, then get stoned.

Keep yourself aware and open to the differences in individual stoner cinema versus group stoner cinema. The stoned spectator often feels compelled to respond in real time to their experience. For this reason I recommend on agreeing to give nary a fuck about talking during the movie whether you are watching in your friend’s place or even in a theater. The stoner cinema is not subordinate to the exhibitor’s regulations. The stoner cinema overthrows sustained coherence and in its place builds a cinema of direct experience. Included within this direct experience: stretches of time abandoning the screen to be present with other bodies and minds.

Consider your physical limitations. When Titanic came out in 3D (when was that? 2011?) I got overwhelmed during the first hour and sat in the theater bathroom for like 30 minutes just texting friends about experiencing Too Much Cinema. My altered spectatorship transformed the dialogue into echoes of every goddamn romance-on-a-boat movie from decades upon decades of adult-authored film. The clichés became ghostly reappearances and the bathroom refuge became a self-imposed intermission, an experienced re-cutting of the film into two stretches. I returned to the theater right before all the action started and that was cool. So maybe don’t consider your physical limits. Sorry about my overcautious bullshit. Fuck it. Embark into a sea of excess, crack your mind open on an iceberg of unintended spectacle. Get high and watch movies.