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Dirty Pictures
by Etienne Sauret
Etienne Sauret 
Movie Reviews
Reviewed by GregM, 3/29/2010

Not just another “tripper flick”, the new documentary Dirty Pictures is a straightforward look at Sasha and Ann Shulgin—their opinions, their motivations, and their passions. Talking intimately about such topics as friendship, love, and community, the Shulgins are “caught in the act” of living their lives; the film overflows with sweet, raw truth.

Etienne Sauret—filling multiple roles as director, producer, and cinematographer—clearly has a gifted eye; with this film he has mastered the art of making his camera disappear. Connecting so directly to the Shulgins, Sauret allows his viewers to feel as though they have forged individual relationships with Sasha and Ann.

Beloved elders of the psychedelic commmunity, the Shulgins remain down-to-earth and humble. Once, a few years ago, when Sasha was swamped with admirers while leaving a conference, I leaned over and playfully whispered, “So tell me—how does it feel to be a deity?”

His response was to begin fake gagging.

In Dirty Pictures, Shulgin expresses disappointment over the characterization of his compounds as party drugs. “There’s no reason that I should be ‘Doctor Ecstasy’. It’s an element of notoriety that does no good,” he says. Nevertheless, the popularity of Shulgin’s creations has held fast over the past few decades, despite the post-1960s backlash that shut down most government-approved research into the impact of psychedelics in the areas of neuroscience and psychotherapy.

Sasha has always made it clear that psychoactive compounds are just tools to rediscover places within ourselves that may be long forgotten or long avoided. Love is the natural byproduct of such spiritual adventures.

As a filmmaker, Etienne Sauret has pursued the lofty intention of demonstrating these ideals, even within the very fabric of the filming technique itself. His eye for framing, balance, detail, and emotion is extraordinary. Sauret was also able to divorce his ego from his footage long enough to turn it over to the brilliant editing skills of Rachel Warden; the result is a real treat to behold. Warden assumes that audience members are smart, and tantalizes us with non-sequiturs. As one viewer put it during a question-and-answer session at the film’s South by Southwest (SXSW) festival premiere in March 2010, the connections Warden makes are like “weaving the threads of a tapestry”.

This kind of filmmaking takes courage. Dirty Pictures is educational and captivating, artistic and entertaining. It was not surprising to learn that the film sold out all three of its showings at SXSW! What an absolute delight.

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