When I passed the doobie to Paul Thomas Anderson, he did not abide.
“Not this time,” Anderson said, waving off the joint.
I couldn’t blame the celebrated director for taking a pass on the weed. He was, after all, seated on a smoke-filled party bus, surrounded by strangers who exchanged bongs, vape pens, and joints like Halloween candy. Fans snapped his photo, shook his hand, and peppered him with questions about Boogie Nights. I guessed that the combination of drugs, stoners, and cameras would make his publicist scowl.
But PTA did not appear worried, and instead mugged for the cameras and talked shop about Dirk Diggler. He was the guest of honor for a screening of his latest film, Inherent Vice, at the Alamo Drafthouse theater in suburban Denver. As PTA explained, his longtime friend (and Alamo CEO) Tim League convinced him that a marijuana-themed screening of the stoner film in legal weed’s world headquarters was a great idea.
Alamo promoted the “Hazy Adventure” by asking fans to post PTA-themed photos on Instagram, and then chose 25 winners to ride on the stoner bus with their favorite director. One winner, Mike, 48, showed me his winning shot. He stood in front of a 1977 Dodge van with brown shag carpet, clad in a Diggler-esque leather suit.
“Check out my sweet porn ‘stache,” Mike said.
I agreed. It was a sweet ‘stache.
Alamo also invited a handful of local media. We were given orders that PTA interviews were strictly verboten, so we simply mingled with the director and waited for interesting words to fall out of his mouth.
PTA admitted he had not been in Colorado since marijuana became legal. He passed through Denver perhaps a decade ago on his way to Telluride. Someone asked if he has plans to film in Colorado. He shook his head no.
A former film student named Ed brought up the topic of theme consistency in The Master, Boogie Nights, and There Will Be Blood. PTA laughed at the question.
“No—I wish I could say there were,” he said. “It’s not like there are these moments when I feel like I’ve got a film by the horns. It’s always like ‘Oh my god what is going on!’”
The group nodded approvingly. Someone sparked another joint.
Marijuana should receive co-star billing in Inherent Vice, as the drug is featured in more scenes than most supporting cast members. The ever-stoned gumshoe Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) casually puffs joints on his couch, in the car, on the sidewalk and in various other settings throughout the film.
Marijuana smoke wafts from Doc’s mouth as the film opens in 1970 Los Angeles. His ex-girlfriend, the seductively bronzed Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston), sneaks into Doc’s cozy beach shack to ask if he’ll investigate the disappearance of her current lover, a wealthy real-estate mogul. Doc’s bumbling investigation forms the narrative backbone of the film, and introduces him to neo-Nazi criminals, Black Panther radicals, drug dealers, Federal agents, and even a pedophile dentist.
Along Doc’s journey, PTA illustrates the death of California’s hippie culture, as self-interest, perversion, and paranoia overpowers peace and love.
Through the lens of modern marijuana culture, the film’s portrayal of Doc’s lazy, hazy stoner persona feels like an artifact. In Denver, where retail marijuana stores now outnumber Starbucks, pot is no longer a groovy, mellow-out drug for slackers. Businessmen smoke pot here, so do lawyers, doctors, and other square members of society. Suit-and-tie wearing executives steer the state’s biggest pot companies. Even local triathletes get high.
The rapid cross-pollination of marijuana varieties has also produced a seemingly endless number of pot strains, all with slightly different psychotropic qualities. Step into a store here, and a budtender (yes, they’re called that) will present strains that supposedly boost energy and perception, and even increase one’s motivation. Whether these strains could perk up Phoenix’s Doc, however, is unknown.
Despite the film’s dated view of weed, the stoner Denver audience giggled its way through the pot scenes. When Doc’s nemesis, the LAPD officer and wannabe TV actor Det. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), scarfed down a mouthful of green buds in the film’s climactic showdown, the theater roared with laughter.
The PTA event may be the first of many high-profile film screenings in Colorado, which has traditionally been flyover country for Hollywood. League said that other filmmakers are enticed by the chance to screen their films for legally stoned audiences. He’s approached Kevin Smith and even Seth Rogen about future screenings.
“Paul and I were talking about the release of this film, and how it would be nice to have an audience that was actually stoned to watch it,” League said. “We’re going to do more of this stuff. Denver is ground zero, really.”
League said the crux of his plan is to develop a safe and legal way to get the audience high before each screening. That’s where the party bus idea was introduced. In Colorado, it is legal to grow, sell, buy, and possess weed, but smoking the plant in public—even in movie theaters—is still a crime. But state law decrees that marijuana should be regulated similar to alcohol.
Party bus companies get a waiver to legally serve booze, and thus smoking weed in them is legal.
“We were very careful about how we orchestrated the event to make sure we weren’t doing anything problematic or illegal,” League said. “This is a groundbreaking event. There’s been no hassle.”
Whether Anderson approved of the screening, we’ll unfortunately never know. As the night went on, however, I couldn’t help but notice the huge grin on his face.