Postcards From The Future: The Chuck Palahniuk Documentary (DVD)
Directed and Edited by: Dennis Widmyer, Kevin Kolsch, Josh Chaplinsky
Chuck Palahniuk just may be one of the most important and relevant fiction writers for the 21st century, and anyone who disagrees can refer to the sales of his books and the success of the movie Fight Club as proof. His intuitive connection with the disaffected youth of Generations X and Y has inspired a whole lot of them to do the unthinkable… actually pick up a book and read! (And not for a school project either!) That is not an easy task nowadays what with the sheer volume of media and entertainment vying for people’s attention during every waking minute. But it’s the edgy topics he covers and also the cynical tone and concise “no-filler” style of his writing that has gained Palahniuk one of the largest cult followings of any author today.
I first heard about Postcards From The Future through the “The Cult”, which Palahniuk fans know intimately as the central location for all things Chuck on the web. As it turns out, this documentary was put together by Dennis Widmyer, the webmaster for ChuckPalahniuk.net, along with his buddies Kevin Kolsch and Josh Chaplinsky. In April 2003, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania decided to organize a 4 day conference dedicated to Chuck Palahniuk, with Chuck himself being the guest of honour. A number of events and workshops were planned, and Widmyer and Co. captured the proceedings on digital video. This movie is the result of all their hard work.
In some ways, the movie feels like you would expect it to, a little immature and goofy, with a bunch of like-minded friends joking around and revelling in the opportunity to interact with an author that they so obviously respect and admire. There are some inside jokes here, particularly with a strange fan named Dr. Tropical who causes the filmmakers to laugh hysterically behind the camera, but inspires only blank looks to those of us who don’t know him. This causes the movie to lose some of its focus, particularly when it actually opens with a nonsensical interview clip from this questionable Dr. Tropical character. At times, you can’t help but feel like this movie was a little self-serving and an excuse for the filmmakers to carry out their fanboy whims.
However, they did still manage to capture their fair share of interesting, if not enlightening, moments on tape too. We meet fans who have travelled from halfway across the country to be at this conference, and we meet moms and university professors who are every bit as excited about his work as the younger crowd. Most importantly, we meet Chuck Palahniuk himself and we find out how cool and down to earth he really is. Despite the sometimes disturbing content of his books, he is not a serial killer, drug addict or maniacal anarchist as one might think. Most of the best segments in this film come from simply fixing a camera on him during his conference talks as he fields questions, provides witty and intelligent insight and spins some amazing stories. Covering everything from the transgressional fiction genre, to how he first learned to masturbate, to his grandmother’s evil pixies, to his weird encounters with fans, to his own workshop on self-expression and political protest, there are a lot of thoughtful ideas presented here. While the majority of material is culled from the conference, there are bits of other footage including some TV interviews, and a segment about his now infamous short story “Guts”, which actually caused crowds of people to pass out during readings on his last book tour. (Incidentally, the story will be part of his upcoming short story collection, “Haunted”.)
The filmmakers have put together a very nice 2-disc DVD set here, especially impressive for an independent production. The second disc contains some bonus materials, including a number of great deleted scenes. I actually wish some of these scenes could have found their way into the film as they offer more background on Palahniuk as an author — particularly the interviews with his editor and publicist, and the story about Stephen King signing books in blood. As cool as it is to see a lot of the fans get screen time and show their love for “Chucky P”, a lot of them don’t have much wisdom to bestow other than, “He fuckin’ rocks man!” This movie is clearly made by and for fans of Palahniuk, and as such accomplishes its main objective. While it may miss out on a broader perspective, it still fills a void among fans hungry for any sort of look behind the man who created Fight Club, Choke, Survivor and many other great books. — Sean