Flicker (novel)  

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"Theodore Roszak's novel Flicker has interesting bits on the American reception of French theory." --Sholem Stein

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Flicker is a novel by Theodore Roszak published in 1991.

The novel covers approximately 15–20 years of the life of film scholar Jonathan Gates, whose academic investigations draw him into the shadowy world of esoteric conspiracy that underlies the work of fictional B-movie director Max Castle. Director Darren Aronofsky's name has long been associated with a possible film adaptation.


Plot summary

Jonathan Gates is a student at UCLA in the early 1960s, where he begins his love affair with film at The Classic, a rundown independent movie theatre. He begins an affair with the theatre's owner Clarissa 'Clare' Swann, who tutors him extensively in the study of film history over the course of their relationship. It is through Clare's pursuit of classic films to show at the theatre that Gates stumbles upon the work of Max Castle, a B-Movie director of German origin whose work uses subliminal imagery and unorthodox symbolism to achieve a powerful effect over the viewer.

Gradually, Gates rises through the academic ranks to achieve a professorial chair, becoming most respected as the rediscoverer and champion of Castle's work. Through Gates' extensive research, the reader learns of Castle's considerable influence over the great films of his time, culminating in a collaboration with Orson Welles to make the acclaimed movie Citizen Kane, followed by a failed attempt to adapt Conrad's Heart of Darkness to the silver screen. Also revealed, however, are his shadowy connections with a religious group known as the Orphans of the Storm, as well as his disappearance in 1941.

Clare, meanwhile, has become a respected New York film critic, entrusting the Classic theatre to her one-time projectionist Don Sharkey, who stops showing artful films in favour of shallow entertainment for a new generation of moviegoers. Among the up-and-coming directors Sharkey showcases is one Simon Dunkle, whom Gates learns belongs to the same religious sect as Max Castle. Gates begins to investigate the Orphans, despite their own attempts to stifle his research and the adverse effect that the constant viewing of Orphan-made films is having on his personality. He learns that they are Gnostic dualists, living in secrecy since the Catholic persecutions of Catharism in the Middle Ages. Gates begins to suspect that the Orphans are using an extensive influence in the film industry to subliminally promote their religion while they enact their plans to bring about the Apocalypse in the year 2014.

Eventually, Gates turns to his former lover Clare for help. She introduces him to a Father Angelotti, a Cathar in disguise as a Catholic priest. Angelotti persuades him to 'infiltrate' the Orphans' church, so as to obtain the conclusive evidence that will allow Gates to publish what he has discovered. The Orphans put him on a private plane, ostensibly to meet the elders of their faith. En route, they drug his coffee and he awakes, imprisoned on a tropical island in the Indian Ocean. Living in a nearby hut is none other than Max Castle himself, more than 30 years after his disappearance. Gates and the film director he once idolised use scraps and castoffs from a waste-heap of old celluloid to splice together one final film, while they wait for Armageddon to come.


Ty Burr, later film critic for the Boston Globe, reviewing the novel in 1991 for Entertainment Weekly, praised Roszak's writing: "Still best known for 1968's The Making of a Counter Culture, a book that sought to explain '60s youth to an older generation of intellectuals, the writer proves to be a spellbinder when it comes to fiction."

Film adaptation

Producers Robert Michael Geisler and John Roberdeau (Streamers, The Thin Red Line) optioned the rights in 1998 and commissioned a screenplay by Dan O'Bannon (Alien, Total Recall), but abandoned the project given disappointment in the script.

In early 2003, Darren Aronofsky, director of the low-budget success, π, signed a three-year contract with Regency Enterprises. One of the first projects mentioned was an adaptation of Flicker. Jim Uhls (best known for his adaptation of Fight Club) was hired to adapt it. In 2006, Aronofsky moved to Universal, and the Flicker project was still in gestation.

The screenplay was reviewed by Mike White of Cashiers du Cinemart. He wrote, "Roszak's name is misspelled on the cover page. From there, things go downhill...Essentially, Uhls boils down Flicker to a talky tale of movies filled with subliminal signals to fight, fuck, or self-destruct."

Stage Adaptation

In the BBC Radio 4 program Archive Hour "Capering with Ken Campbell" reveal that Ken Campbell was working on a stage adaptation at the time of his death. Ken had previously produced the nine-hour stage adaptation of the Illuminatus Trilogy for the National Theatre.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Flicker (novel)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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