Frank's confusing, complex and ultimately exhilarating movie was one of the cinema's first serious attempts to deal with mental illness. It started out as a cinéma-vérité portrait of Julius Orlovsky, a catatonic schizophrenic removed from hospital by his poet brother Peter, and dragged along on a tour of campus poetry gigs with Allen Ginsberg. Partly because of Julius' own unresponsiveness (he's tranquillised up to the eyeballs), Frank decided during the shooting to introduce a second, fictional Julius (played by Chaikin) to act out some hypotheses about the real man's state of mind. The result is a daring mixture of fact and fiction, as Laingian as Peter Robinson's documentary Asylum: no statement is made or situation explored without immediately being challenged or confronted with an alternative reading. It's as sprawling and chaotic as it sounds, but it remains firmly (and movingly) anchored in its concern for Julius himself.
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