GAMBLING, GODS AND LSD
GAMBLING, GODS AND LSD, 2002, 180 minutes
Available on iTunes and other online streaming platforms.
A filmmaker’s inquiry into transcendence becomes a three-hour trip across countries and cultures, interconnecting people, places and times. From Toronto, the scene of his childhood, Peter Mettler sets out on a journey that includes evangelism at the airport strip, demolition in Las Vegas, tracings in the Nevada desert, chemistry and street life in Switzerland, and the coexistence of technology and divinity in contemporary India. Everywhere along the way, the same themes are to be found: thrill-seeking, luck, destiny, belief, expanding perception, the craving for security in an uncertain world. Fact joins with fantasy; the search for meaning and the search for ecstasy begin to merge.
Mettler blends documentary observation with lyrical camerawork, location sound with aural sculpture. The result is an audio-visual composition whose movements challenge our preconceptions, evoking in us the wonder and awe of our daily existence. It is a mosaic of moments where the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. Gambling, Gods and LSD invites the viewer to actively participate in the making of meaning, so that the central theme of the film and the experience of watching it become one and the same.
A visionary, intuitive journey. A lucid and personal portrait of our times. Gambling, Gods and LSD may change the way you look at the world.
Gambling, Gods and LSD – GGLSD for short – is Peter Mettler’s 8th film and follows work made in many genres: the shorts Lancalot Freely (1980) and Gregory (1981), the experimental films Scissere (1982) and Eastern Avenue (1985), the fiction features The Top of His Head (1989) and Tectonic Plates (1992) and the documentaries Picture of Light (1994) and Balifilm (1997).
The original idea for GGLSD surfaced in 1988, but it wasn’t until Picture of Light was completed in 1994 that Mettler was able to devote himself fully to the project. From the beginning, the process of making the film was structured as a voyage of discovery. Mettler explains: "It was important for this project not to depend on a script or a preconceived shooting plan. It was a more open and intuitive way of working. Such a process still requires decisions and choices, but they were made in response to the apparently random flow of events and people who crossed my path.”
Working alone or with a small crew, Mettler shot film and video footage in Canada, the USA, Switzerland and India (see list of appearances). Four themes set the conceptual guidelines for shooting: the desire to transcend; the denial of death; the illusion of safety; our relationship to nature. These themes played a guiding role in selecting subjects for the film, as well as suggesting how to respond to and film the subjects. The encounters themselves created the journey’s own logic. As Mettler says: "I wanted to let one thing lead to the next, allowing the film to make itself – so that its structure might reflect the logic of life’s unfolding.”
Mettler’s travels for the film occurred intermittently between late 1997 and early 1999. He began the editing process in 1998 in a rambling wooden farmhouse in the Swiss canton of Appenzell, loaned to the production by the Schlesinger Foundation as a year-long artist-in-residence grant. The following year Mettler moved his digital editing system into an abandoned hotel in nearby St. Anton, which he and a group of fellow artists had turned into a collective working residence.
In a first, rough editing stage, Mettler and his co-editor Roland Schlimme created a 55-hour assembly culled from a larger quantity of original material. Mettler explains: "Nothing was ever shot twice, there were no re-takes or multiple camera angles, so the 55 hours contained a multitude of different scenes and characters. I put the material together chronologically and tried to crystallize scenes and sequences according to what the material itself suggested. The challenge was to create a structure and a story while preserving the chronological order of events without imposing too much from outside. It was important to let the material breathe.”
Right from the start, sound design played an important role in structuring the film. Sound influenced the picture editing choices as much as the picture would call for a certain sound, and these had to blend with the spoken word of the people interviewed. Mettler worked with collaborators to develop individual sound elements as accompaniment or counterpoint to specific contexts within the emerging film. Original aural elements were created by noted Swiss sound designer Peter Bräker, musician Fred Frith and DJ Dimitri de Perrot.
The soundtrack also merges sounds and music recorded on location, ranging from Las Vegas casino ambience through techno halls to Indian religious ceremonies. It also uses pre-recorded music by various artists, including Jim O’Rourke, Henryk Gorecki, Tony Coe, Knut and Silvy, Christian Fennesz and others (for a full list, see music credits at www.gambling-gods-and-lsd.ch).
As a Swiss-Canadian co-venture the film could partake of the expertise available in both countries throughout all stages of the production. Financing also occurred on an international basis. The film’s first and critical supporter was the late Andreas Züst, best known to Mettler fans as a principal character in Picture of Light. Further funding came from the Swiss Federal Office of Culture (EDI), the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SRG SSR Idée Suisse), ARTE, the city and canton of Zurich and Telefilm Canada. Additional support was received from a number of foundations and arts organizations in both countries, and in the form of goodwill from many associated participants.
Gambling, Gods and LSD was co-produced by Cornelia Seitler of maximage GmbH, Zurich, and Alexandra Rockingham Gill and Ingrid Veninger of Grimthorpe Film Inc., Toronto.
"...a fascinating three-hour exploration/autobiography/Zen meditation"
-- Cameron Bailey, TIFF
"...Gambling, Gods and LSD becomes a sort of divine sacrament, melting the viewer’s synapses with a mesmerizing array of sights, sounds and genuinely profound insights. At three hours Gambling, Gods and LSD is demanding, but it ranks with the most visionary work of Chris Marker and Joris Ivens."
-- Jason Anderson, EYE MAGAZINE
“Gambling, Gods and LSD is a frequently mesmerizing three-hour diary-documentary about people’s seemingly universal struggle to break on through to the other side. Beautifully rendered and enigmatically elliptical… the movie works most effectively as a form of cinematic meditation. In encouraging a kind of trancelike submission to its hypnotic sounds and images, GGLSD successfully points to precisely the kind of experience it pursues. Time was, they’d call this a head movie.”
--Geoff Pevere, THE TORONTO STAR