Transmissions from the Timothy Leary Papers: Keith Haring Makes a Mind Movie

By Alison Rhonemus
January 25, 2013

In the process of imaging digital material from the Timothy Leary papers, my eyes have scanned some curious documents, but sometimes the most intriguing files are the ones I can't read. Timothy Leary collaborated with a number of celebrities on projects during his years of freelancing. One of the celebrities that left his mark on the Leary papers is Keith Haring.

Among the box load of disks, a few are tantalizingly inscribed "Drink me" and "Love, Keith" with a paint marker. The disks look to be in an Amiga format but have yet to be analyzed.

Leary and Haring met through their mutual acquaintance, Grace Jones, at Paradise Garage in the mid-eighties. Shortly after their meeting, a note from February 29, 1984 indicates that Timothy's wife Barbara sent Haring a copy of Leary's autobiography Flashbacks. According to a later letter dated July 15 from Delhi, Haring felt compelled to send the author the drawings he had done while reading it.

Haring's drawings and Flashbacks again tied back to their friendship with Grace Jones. In the note accompanying a portrait of Jones, Haring wrote, "The drawing of Grace at Paradise Garage is my first drawing of Grace. I have drawn 'on' Grace but never drawn her." Imagery of Grace Jones would remain present throughout their correspondence and collaboration. Haring ended the letter by saying "I am now even more excited and enthusiastic about finding a way to work together on a computer program... sharing some time 'exchanging' and 'exploding' some ideas together."

Heartened by his interactive response to Flashbacks, Leary officially asked Haring to collaborate on what was intended to be the second Neuromancer project. Leary wrote back to Haring saying "The drawing of Grace celebrates so many rare moments in our lives. It is precious to us... So, let's talk about what we can share together and explode on screens. I see your art as perfectly harmonious with screen presentation. Your style is, more than any other artists geared to 21st century expressions."

The first Neuromancer project by Leary's software company, Futique, was a successful videogame based on the novel by William Gibson. "Neuromancer: An Electronic Mind Movie," was to be promotional software for the also ill-fated Neuromancer feature film by Cabana Boy Productions. The files from the collection include promotional material for the Mind Movie, a preliminary script, and contracts with artists. Keith Haring wrote a letter to Leary on December 18, 1986 agreeing to participate in the project by allowing paintings he had created to be digitally imaged for the computer program, while also agreeing to the use of his photograph for a character in the program — as long as he was given top billing. In previous correspondence from July of 1986, Leary asked Haring to consider contributing an original painting to be used as a logo for the program and offered him an "AMIGA" to help create images for the program, stating, "This is the hot graphics computer that Andy helped publicize last year." Andy Warhol attended an Amiga press conference in 1985.

Aside from artwork by Keith Haring, the Neuromancer Mind Movie was also to feature photography by Helmut Newton, music by Devo, and writing by William S. Burroughs. Despite the celebrity talent Leary was able to wrangle for this project, he was unable to successfully wrangle funding. In promotional material the Neuromancer Mind Movie is linked with Electronic Arts, Interplay and Activision, but was never produced.

Leary's Neuromancer Mind Movie project was one of several he concocted. A Mind Movie was supposed to be like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book with a higher degree of interaction and better graphics. The Futique business plan updated in 1987 lists three in development including Neuromancer. Other potential projects included The Electronic Bead Game, based on the Nobel-Prize winning novel by Hermann Hesse The Glass Bead Game, and feature film Blade Runner, described by Leary as "THE BLADE-RUNNER QUARTER: This is a MIND MOVIE based on the screen-treatment by William Burroughs." Leary raved about the movie Blade Runner in correspondence and referred to parodying Blade Runner in the Neuromancer Mind Movie plan. A plan from October 5, 1986 states that "The rights to the name BLADERUNNER are held by William Burroughs. This MIND MOVIE would interweave replicant/clone themes from Philip Dick."

Leary considered Mind Movie more commercial and easily marketable than another Futique project, his Head Coach series. Head Coach was a psychological program in the vein of an interactive self-help book. Mind Movie was intended to finance his Head Coach program but neither got off the ground. Neuromancer was more fully developed than some of the other projects. The Neuromancer Mind Movie was scripted with four tracks, or versions, with different actors for each track. In one of the tracks, Keith Haring played Case and in recognition of their muse Grace Jones was billed co-star as Molly.

"Memo #5"

Graphics received a lot of attention in promotional material and scripts for the Neuromancer Mind Movie. A memo dated January 7, 1987 states that "The Mind Movie, NEUROMANCER, will jump with graphics. Every event-screen will have at least one graphic, and most will have more than one. We are developing techniques to provide endless variety. Almost every screen will have a unique graphic."

To date, processing is still in progress and any images on Amiga disks are yet to be analyzed. All we have are hints of what the mind movie was intended to look like. Such as the following description:

PSYBERSPACE imagery will use the work of KEITH HARING. Diki and Kevin will produce special-effects never seen on a computer screen. Since CYBERSPACE is INFO-SPACE, the spinning clusters of forms will swirl into data-symbols.

The fractals come as no surprise considering Leary's fondness for them. One of the Amiga disks viewed with an emulator contained nothing but fractals. The Mandelbrot set of fractal geometric shapes created by mathematician, Benoît Mandelbrot, was Leary's go-to imagery of choice. Fractals we have, but emulation was only a partial solution to re-discovering the Neuromancer Mind Movie project. For now, we will have to rely on references in text such as "CYBERSPACE PIX Screen swirls with Keith Haring spaghetti, in color."

The dearth of information available on incomplete artistic endeavors may not be unique to the Timothy Leary papers, but it is unfortunate for researchers that less documentation is available for collaborations of this sort. Reaching an understanding of what doesn't work is often a better learning experience than getting things right the first time. Researchers might be able to learn more about a subject by delving into interests that fell by the wayside, rather than focusing on more well known accomplishments.

There is quite a bit of digital material to see in the Timothy Leary papers. I preserved 200 disks this semester with more to go. Much of the information on those disks is viewable in the process of digital preservation. Files range from personal correspondence, article fragments and submissions from other authors, to financial and legal information. While the material is in the process of being analyzed, it is difficult to determine exactly when and why production for Mind Movie ceased.

The disks in the collection gave me a hint as to some of the areas of growth for digital archives. Figuring out how to deal with material created with vintage computer systems like the Amiga will be important for preserving the work of artists like Andy Warhol and Keith Haring.