Renegade, the best psychedelic western, ever
Renegade, the best psychedelic western, ever
by James Kent
Can a mediocre French western really be the most psychedelic movie ever made? Absolutely!
I got an e-mail from a friend of mine telling me to check out Renegade, a fairly bland western with the dubious distinction of having the best psychedelic scenes ever laid down on film. Don't believe me? I didn't believe it either until I watched the movie. But they are there, count them, not one, not two, but three full-on Native American shamanic rituals, some lasting ten to twenty minutes at a time, complete with cosmic snakes, hyperspatial centipedes, black morphing thousand-eyed demons, and that's just for starters. The shamanic scenes are intense beyond intense, ranging from the shifting world of coming on and going all the way into the deep realms of the transcendental peak. In short, this film nails the psychedelic experience in all it's glory and horror, the first movie to ever do so, that I have seen.
The plot of Renegade revolves around Mike, a sheltered young lad from Louisiana carted out to the frontier by his family to toughen his hide. Before long he's in a deadly shoot-out with a classic western Bad Guy (Wallace, played by Michael Madsen) which ends in the death of Mike's love of all of ten minutes, a beautiful young courtesan who gets caught in the crossfire. The plot about the dead whore and the bad guy is just a set-up to send Mike on a spiritual journey into the wilderness, where the wise old Indians dose him up and attempt to cleanse him of his demons. Needless to say, the parts of the movie between the ritual scenes seem to drag on endlessly (Juliette Lewis singing? Oh no!), but the payoff is definitely worth it. The final psychedelic battle between Mike and Wallace goes well beyond anything you've seen in the Matrix, Altered States, or any other movie that plays around with psychedelic archetypes. This movie does not deliver a watered-down Hollywood version of the psychedelic experience, they bring the goods in an amazing, eye popping way. Please, do not watch this film on drugs. Watch it sober first just to believe for your own eyes what you are seeing. Yes, someone actually spent major money to make a western centered around shamanism. Yes, they actually got it right.
Renegade is a French film, originally called Blueberry and based on the comic book of the same name (the hero's name I guess is Mike Blueberry, although that seems to have been cut from the final release). I don't know if it came out in theaters or was released straight to DVD, but it is avilable now, so get it quick. While I have never read the comic, I can only assume that's where the psychedelic influences came from. But whoever put this movie together had a different agenda than your average filmmaker; this movie was made expressly for the shamanic scenes, no doubt about it. I mean, when was the last time you saw a western that ended in a shamanic peyote battle instead of a gun fight? This is some tripped-out shit to be sure, go rent the DVD today. I won't mind if you skip past the boring parts and go straight to the tripping scenes, the plot really doesn't matter that much. But if you want to see the best, most accurate, most lovingly crafted shamanic rituals and psychedelic visuals ever created for home viewing, this is the disc for you. Movie: C+; Shamanic Scenes: A+
Thanks for the tip Eugene!
More comments from a reader:
I enjoyed your review of "Renegade" and think I can provide you some further info about it:
In French, its name was "Blueberry", which is the name from the comic which inspired the movie. The original author was Moebius and he did a long series about the adventures of Mike Blueberry, this sheriff trying to maintain peace between Native americans and cowboys in the old west.
Jan Kounen did the movie (after his great success "Dobermann") and it took approximately 10 years of preparation. He visited some shamans in Mexico, who used peyote, but unfortunately this guys were charlatans. Then he moved to Peru and there he found the ayahuasca shaman who initiated him to the realms of yagé. He did more than 100 sessions with this curandero (the old one that we see at the beginning of the movie), living between France and Peru. His entourage thought he was becoming insane and that he would never finsh the movie. But finally he did it, and he has done some documentaries about shamanism ("Other Worlds", and another one called "Other Realities").
You can check his website : http://www.jankounen.com
So in a certain way, the ayahuasca tradition did influence the most the movie. The french-speaking "psychedelic community" was a bit afraid about the movie, because lots of people thought Kounen will create bad advertising for sacred plants. But finally he did it well, mixing everything (North and South American traditions) and not naming any of the sacraments.
Thanks Lourenço, I thought the shamanic scenes seemed more like ayahuasca sessions than peyote trips. Now I know why!