The Rise and Fall of Synanon (cult expert Paul Morantz in person!)

One of the strangest cult movements of all was created right in our own backyard. Synanon, the drug rehab center/commune known as the “Paradise by the Sea” (or, if you prefer, “A.A. gone wrong”), was birthed in Santa Monica by the Bukowski-esque, tough-as-nails Chuck Dederich — the “Popeye” of cult leaders. After having his mind blown on a governmental LSD experiment, this charismatic former alcoholic emerged with a vision of how to recreate man, cure drug addicts, build a utopian future — and devote his life to building an experimental society to meet these goals. While lauded in its early days for being the first ever heroin addiction clinic (at a time when doctors’ advice was to just give them drugs until they died), eventually Synanon became synonymous with violence and Dederich’s abuse of power — beatings, arranged marriages, coerced vasectomies and enough shaved heads to fill THX 1138’s on-screen society with extras (it’s true!) Join us as we track the rise and fall of Synanon with archival materials, found footage, and the incredible in-person story of Paul Morantz: one of the world’s foremost experts on cults, and the lawyer who not only successfully battled Synanon in the courts for years, but who also lived to tell the tale after the spiteful organization left a deadly rattlesnake in his mailbox. Plus, we’ll also screen a rare 35mm print of Synanon, the jazzy 1965 Hollywood whitewashing treatment in which the cult is presented as an anti-drug success story, co-starring Stella Stevens, Edmond O’Brien, Chuck Connors and Eartha Kitt.
Synanon Dir. Richard Quine, 1965, 35mm, 105 min.

Watch the trailer for “Synanon”!
YouTube Preview Image