Dirty States


In ALTERED STATES, written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Ken Russell, Dr. Edward Jessup (a name suggesting both Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde) enters a tank of water, doped up on weird Peruvian broth, and emerges as an ape.

In DIRTY WORK, directed by lemme see Lloyd French whoever he might be, Professor Noodle (a name suggesting that which he he is off) fills a tank with weird broth,  possibly Peruvian for all I know, and tries to entice his butler to bathe in them. But before this can happen, Oliver Hardy (for this is a Laurel & Hardy short) falls in and emerges as an ape.

The name of Professor Noodle’s butler is… JESSUP.

The Jessup connection strikes me as significant, given the fact that ALTERED STATES in so many respects is a remake of DIRTY WORK, only with less chimney sweep slapstick. Chayefsky undoubtedly would have seen the L&H film, so he had that in his brain and the whole premise of his script is that nothing is ever lost, all that information is still inside us.

Jessup is frequently pictured STANDING ON THE THRESHOLD.

I’m not aware that Ken Russell was a particular fan of the boys but that’s OK because what’s exciting about the film is what was so displeasing to Chayefsky — Russell’s audio-visual attack comes from a very different direction from Chayefsky’s philosophical science fiction story. Russell’s influences are, in the main, Fritz Lang silents, Busby Berkeley musicals, and bits of Welles and Fellini.


Here, he’s also merrily sourcing stock footage from Oxford Scientific Films and Fox’s DANTE’S INFERNO and I’m not sure what-all else. Anyone know what the massed ranks of crucifixions are from? I checked SPARTACUS but nope. A shot of twin chargers at a gallop suggested the hallucination from the ’40s JEKYLL where the horses turn into Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner, but it’s not from there — but maybe the shot was SUGGESTED by that sequence, whose surrealism and sonic assault do suggest Russell’s visions and John Corrigliano’s brilliant, bruising score.

Intelligent design by Richard MacDonald: the squawk box Jessup communicates through when he’s in the tank is shaped sorta like the tank. And has a funny face!

Fiona: “I would KILL to see this on the big screen!”

Me: “It’s one of the tragedies of this life that if you kill someone, you are in fact LESS likely to get to see ALTERED STATES on the big screen.”


“I have nothing to say!”

12 Responses to “Dirty States”

  1. mikeclelland Says:

    I saw this movie in the theater when it came out — I must have been 17. I LOVED IT!

    There are a few movies that deal with the scientific acceleration of ape to man to advanced being.

    Kubrick’s 2001 is an example. It has a big black box that is key to that acceleration, although it stands upright.

    Also, a glorious Outer Limits episode, THE SIXTH FINGER. It has a booth and a control knob marked “forward” and “backward” to control evolution.

    Also — I have a friend who had a dream, and in it, she starts a band called “We Love Ken Russell Films”


  2. David Ehrenstein Says:

    According to the late, great and sorely missed Dorothy Dean, who got to know him personally in the wake of “The Hospital” (a film she deeply adored), Paddy Chayevsky was PROFOUNDLY Bi-Polar. It order to level him out (straightening him out was in no way possible) his doctors proscribed hydrotherapy. But one in the tank Paddy began to hallucinate — hence “Altered States.”

    Haven’t seem John Corigliano in years. Besides being a great composer (his opera “The Ghosts of Versailles” is magnificent) he was in his prime One Fabulous Babe — and very much in demand by gentlemen of taste and sophistication.

  3. Jeff Gee Says:

    Corigliano’s suite from “Altered States” is available (or was– I got it ten years ago) on a Naxos CD with his settings of a bunch of Bob Dylan lyrics. According to his liner notes Dylan sounded kind of interesting but he’d never heard the songs (!) so he bought a collection of lyrics and set a bunch– in pretty much the same idiom as his “Altered States” score. The pick-to-click is “Clothesline Saga” from The Basement Tapes. His setting of “Mr. Tamnbourine Man” contains some (I assume inadvertent) overtones of the William Shatner cover…

  4. Wow, what a neat project for him!

    Russell of course has a long history of collaborating avidly with gay artists, from David Watkin to Derek Jarman to Murray Melvin and Richard Chamberlain, and he’s an interesting case of heterosexual camp — like Fellini.

    The very Russell-like The Final Programme, produced by regular Russell producers, has another case of simian regression by science.

  5. The crosses might be sourced from Zinnemann’s THE SEVENTH CROSS, greatly altered of course. A similar (same?) shot crops up in the feature release adapted from the WW2 TV series VICTORY AT SEA, in a montage at the finale that doesn’t appear in the series itself. / / / That’s my guess.

  6. Interesting! I count more than seven crosses, and I can’t see where they might have overlaid the same shot on top of itself to multiply them. But I’ll check out those sources to see if the movement is comparable. If the shot is less covered in lava in Victory at Sea that’d be a step forward…

  7. Just looked at The Seventh Cross’s opening, and it’s kinda close, but apart from there only being seven crosses, they’re most of them unoccupied and when men are attached to them they’re bound at the elbows, hanging forward, making a very non-biblical shape. This really looks like an ancient world movie, but I have no idea which.

  8. Andreas Flohr Says:

    I’ve read anywhere in the old Electric Sheep Blog, that the Cecil B. DeMille-like scenes of Hell are actually taken from Harry Lachman’s 1935 film Dante’s Inferno ….

  9. Yes they are, but not every bit of stock footage in Altered States depicts Hell: I don’t think there is a mass crucifixion in the Lachman film. You can watch the full Hell here: https://mubi.com/notebook/posts/forgotten-by-fox-heaven-hell-and-way-down-east

  10. Andreas Flohr Says:

    Danke für den Tipp, Herr Cairns!

  11. Altered States is an expensive, jazzed up version of The Neanderthal Man, starring Arthur Franz.

  12. Doesn’t have a stuffed sabre-tooth, though.

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