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The Independent Critic

Alexander Shulgin
Etienne Sauret
86 Mins.
Breaking Glass Pictures (DVD)

 "Dirty Pictures" Review 
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Alexander "Sasha" Shulgin, is the scientist behind more than 200 psychedelic compounds including "MDMA," more commonly known as the drug Ecstasy. Shulgin is considered to be one of the greatest chemists of the past century, with his discoveries having had a profound impact on psychedelic research. Shulgin's life work has made him a curiosity of sorts, controversial among his fellow scientists and yet celebrated to the point of an almost "folk hero" status among those who embrace the use of psychedelics.

Dirty Pictures goes inside the Northern California home of Dr. Shulgin and his wife of 40 years and where he continues to conduct experiments inside a makeshift lab that looks like something you might find alongside Val Kilmer in Real Genius. Dirty Pictures also goes inside the world of psychedelic research, where chemistry meets neuroscience meets philosophy, and explores the essential issue of whether or not such research may, in fact, contain a road map into further understanding of the human mind.

Dirty Pictures premiered at SXSW in 2010, and has played at multiple festivals including MountainFilm Telluride, Sheffield Doc/Fest, Boston Independent Film Festival, BamCinemaFest and Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. The film transcends expectations, serving to neither glorify drug usage nor for that matter taking sides on any of the myriad of issues that could potentially arise here. In most ways, Dirty Pictures is entirely centered upon exploring Shulgin's life work. Shulgin, who could pass for a slightly more disheveled Einstein, is perfect for the camera with a vibrancy that comes to life and an obvious passion for his research that remains to his day. While the film delves briefly into those who might oppose his work, for the most part Director Etienne Sauret focuses the film on Shulgin as we become privy to the inner workings of his home-based lab, experience a DEA raid and simply listen to this former Dow Chemical drug developer as he talks about the work that has consumed his life.

Sauret helps give credibility to Shulgin's efforts by incorporate just a few interviews ranging from a former DEA agent to another younger scientist who prefers experimenting with his compounds on mice rather than with human beings. Sauret's ability to get cooperation with the film validates the academic and psychosocial importance of this fringe community of scientific explorers who remain devoted to exploring the ways these psychedelic compounds can help explore the mind.

Sauret, a documentarian for over 20 years whose works include two films about 9/11, works alongside former The Shooting Gallery editor Rachel Warden. Together, the two give the film a unique and interesting design that fits nicely within the film's subject matter and helps keep the viewer visually interested even when the information itself becomes a bit heady.

Dirty Pictures has been picked up by Breaking Glass Pictures for a November 8, 2011 DVD release. For more information, visit the film's website and Breaking Glass page.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic