Wild Palms main cast (listed below)
|Created by||Bruce Wagner|
|Written by||Bruce Wagner|
|Country of origin||USA|
|No. of episodes||5|
|Executive producer(s)||Oliver Stone
|Running time||285 minutes|
|Original run||May 16, 1993 – May 19, 1993|
Wild Palms is a five-hour mini-series which was produced by Greengrass Productions and first aired in May 1993 on the ABC network in the United States. The sci-fi drama, announced as an "event series", deals with the dangers of politically motivated abuse of mass media technology, virtual realities in particular. It was based on a comic strip written by Bruce Wagner and illustrated by Julian Allen first published in 1990 in Details magazine. Wagner, who also wrote the screenplay, served as executive producer together with Oliver Stone. The series stars James Belushi, Dana Delany, Robert Loggia, Kim Cattrall and Angie Dickinson. The episodes were directed by Kathryn Bigelow, Keith Gordon, Peter Hewitt and Phil Joanou.
- 1 Plot synopsis
- 2 Episodes
- 3 Cast
- 4 Cameos
- 5 Production
- 6 Production design
- 7 References in Wild Palms
- 8 Supplements
- 9 Reception
- 10 Home media releases
- 11 References
- 12 External links
In the United States in the year 2007, the right-wing "Fathers" dominate large sections in politics and in the media. A libertarian movement, the "Friends", opposes the government, often making use of underground guerilla tactics.
In California, the powerful representative of the "Fathers" is Senator Tony Kreutzer, who is also the leader of the religious sect "Church of Synthiotics" and owner of the "Wild Palms" media group. Kreutzer's TV station "Channel 3" is about to start a new television format, "Church Windows", which creates a virtual reality on the basis of popular shows like sitcoms, using a new technique called "Mimecom".
Harry Wyckoff is a successful patent attorney on the brink of becoming a partner in the agency he works at. He has two children with his wife Grace, a boutique owner: Coty, who has just been cast for the new "Channel 3" series, and Deirdre. At night, Wyckoff is plagued by strange dreams of a rhinoceros and a faceless woman who has palm trees tattooed on her body.
One day, he is visited by a former lover, Paige Katz, who asks for his help in tracking down her son Peter, who disappeared five years earlier. As Paige is closely associated with Kreutzer's "Wild Palms Group", which Wyckoff's firm is going up against in court, their meetings raise suspicions and cost Wyckoff his promotion. After this, he gladly accepts when Kreutzer offers him a job at "Channel 3" with an even higher salary.
In the wake of his new career, Harry's wife Grace alienates from him and attempts suicide. To his dismay Harry learns that Coty is actually the son of Kreutzer and Paige, her search request was a plot to bring him and the Senator together. Meanwhile, Coty not only becomes a child TV star but also, due to his ruthlessness, a high-ranking member of the "Church of Synthiotics". Grace's mother Josie turns out to be the Senator's sister who disposes of possible rivals with the same brutal means as her brother. Her only weak point is her former marriage to Eli Levitt, leader of the "Friends" and Grace's father.
Kreutzer tries to get hold of the "Go chip" which supposedly will enable him to become a living hologram with unlimited power, and does not even stop at murder. Disgusted by his methods, his future wife Paige gives information to the "Friends". Harry discovers that Peter, a straying boy who has connections to the "Friends", is his real son who was taken away by the "Fathers" shortly after his birth. Kreutzer, who suspects Harry to collaborate with his opponents, has him tortured and kidnaps his daughter Deirdre, while Josie murders his wife (and her daughter) Grace.
Harry joins the "Friends" and enforces the broadcast of Grace's murder which has been videotaped. The broadcast causes a social uproar. "Synthiotics" facilities and campaigning offices of Kreutzer, who is running for president, are attacked. Even a transmission of a fake video that shows Harry as Grace's murderer, and the secret execution of Eli can't stop the upheaval. Josie is killed by a former victim, Tully Woiwode. Kreutzer finally manages to get hold of the "Go chip" and has it implanted, but it was altered by Harry and Peter. Kreutzer reveals to Harry that he is his biological father, before he loses cohesion and dissolves into nothingness. As Coty, the leadership of the "Fathers", finds his followers dispersed, Harry, Paige, Peter and Dierdre escape the chaos.
ABC aired the mini-series over five consecutive nights:
- 16 May 1993: Everything Must Go (approx. 90 minutes) - directed by Peter Hewitt
- 17 May 1993: The Floating World (approx. 45 minutes) - directed by Keith Gordon
- 18 May 1993: Rising Sons (approx. 45 minutes) - directed by Kathryn Bigelow
- 19 May 1993: Hungry Ghosts (approx. 45 minutes) - directed by Keith Gordon
- 20 May 1993: Hello, I Must Be Going (approx. 45 minutes) - directed by Phil Joanou
- James Belushi as Harry Wyckoff
- Dana Delany as Grace Wyckoff
- Ben Savage as Coty Wyckoff
- Robert Loggia as Senator Tony Kreutzer
- Angie Dickinson as Josie Ito
- David Warner as Eli Levitt
- Kim Cattrall as Paige Katz
- Ernie Hudson as Tommy
- Nick Mancuso as Tully Woiwode
- Bebe Neuwirth as Tabba Schwartzkopf
- Aaron Michael Metchik as Peter Katz
- Brad Dourif as Chickie Levitt
- Charles Hallahan as Gavin Whitehope
- Robert Morse as Chap Starfall
- Beata Pozniak as Tambor
- Bob Gunton as Dr. Tobias Schenkl
- Charles Rocket as Stitch Walken
- Cyberpunk author William Gibson has a cameo appearance as himself. When the author is introduced as the man who invented the term Cyberspace, he remarks, "and they won't let me forget it".
- Wild Palms producer and film director Oliver Stone also has a cameo. In a fictitious interview he appears as himself and comments on the release of files pertinent to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, revealing that the theories in his film JFK were right.
Oliver Stone had originally planned to film Bruce Wagner's novel Force Majeure, but then decided to film Wagner's comic strip Wild Palms, published in Details magazine, instead: "It was so syncretic. It was such a fractured view of the world. Everything and anything could happen. Maybe your wife isn't your wife, maybe your kids aren't your kids. It really appealed to me." Wagner referred to his creation as "a sort of surreal diary […] a tone poem", set in an "Orwellian Los Angeles". ABC agreed to finance the project on a budget of $11 Million, but, remembering the eventual decline of David Lynch's Twin Peaks, insisted that the series had "a complete story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end".
Actor James Belushi compared the series (among others) to the British TV serial The Prisoner, and stated: "It's very tough, very challenging–a lot of viewers probably won't dig it." Dana Delany suggested to viewers to "let it wash over you, enjoy each scene, and by the end it'll make sense". Robert Loggia compared it to Elizabethan play The Duchess of Malfi and the ancient Greek tragedy Medea. ABC, bound to make sure that viewers won't lose attention, had a supplemental book, The Wild Palms Reader, published and offered a telephone hotline with the show's initial run. These measures notwithstanding, Stone considered the atmosphere to be more important than the storyline.
William Gibson later stated that "while the mini-series fell drastically short of the serial, it did produce one admirably peculiar literary artifact, The Wild Palms Reader" (to which he contributed). Both Stone and Gibson called Wagner the creative force behind the series.
The United States of the year 2007 as depicted in the series show a strong influence of Japanese culture, e. g. in dresses and interior and exterior design. Holograms of Miss Alabama and girl group The Supremes even bear Japanese facial features.
Other interior details show the influence of Scottish designer and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928). Deliberately anachronistic elements include 1960s cars (like Studebaker police vehicles) and Edwardian fashion.
References in Wild Palms
While the comic strip makes clear references from Senator Kreutzer to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, the series gives only allusions. Hubbard publicised a psychological technique, "Dianetics", which is practised in his "Church of Scientology". Kreutzer's technique is called "Synthiotics", his religious organization "Church of Synthiotics". Kreutzer's organization has a naval subsidiary called "The Floating World", so has the "Church of Scientology", called "Sea Org". In their reviews of the series, both The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly believed seeing resemblances.
Shortly after Harry joins the "Wild Palms Group", competing TV stations file a lawsuit against the senator's company, arguing that his new exclusive broadcasting technique "Mimecom" would create a technical monopoly. The lawsuit refers to the 1948 Paramount Consent Decree which forced major Hollywood studios to sell their movie theater chains to liquidate the existing oligopoly.
During a conversation, Kreutzer explains that his mother died as victim of Executive Order 9066 because she had Japanese ancestors. In 1942, U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt had signed EO 9066 which led to the internment of Japanese Americans and Japanese living along the Pacific coast of the United States in so called "War Relocation Camps".
A manipulated video showing Harry killing his wife Grace (who was in fact murdered by her mother Josie) is announced to be broadcast on several TV channels. CNN alone is mentioned by name. After the broadcast, Harry contacts Josie one last time, sarcastically suggesting that she should start a weekly TV show featuring the murder of a surprise guest. As the first two attendants, he proposes ancient Roman dictator Caesar and controversial union leader Jimmy Hoffa who disappeared in 1975.
Artistic and other references
- The poem Of Mere Being by Wallace Stevens is repeatedly used as a mantra by "Synthiotics" members.
- Running to Paradise by W. B. Yeats is, among others, quoted by Senator Kreutzer in conversation with Harry Wyckoff: "The wind is old and still at play / While I must hurry upon my way, / For I am running to Paradise."
- Comedian Stitch Walken quotes a chapter title ("The Pool of Tears") from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland: "Down, down, down through the pool of tears."
- The hologram of Dex Wykoff recites Shakespeare's Hamlet: "It is an honest ghost, that let me tell you."
- When given a precious dagger by Eli Levitt, Harry quotes The Art of War by Sun Tzu.
- The Hollow Men by T. S. Eliot features Kreutzer's last words: "This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper."
- O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman is repeatedly alluded to and recited by the "Friends".
- Kreutzer repeatedly sings "Hello, I Must Be Going" from the Marx Brothers film Animal Crackers. Animal Crackers can even be seen playing on a TV screen.
- "Synthiotics" entertainer Chap Starfall performs the Irving Berlin composition "Let's Face the Music and Dance", "In My Room" by The Beach Boys, Cole Porter's "All Of You", and Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower".
- While Josie visits Chickie Levitt, Kreutzer sings along to an interpretation of Victor Young's "Street of Dreams".
- During a test screening of "Mimecom", Harry's colleague Gavin Whitehope sings passages from the Jimi Hendrix song "Purple Haze", asking, "Are you experienced, Harry?" ("Purple Haze" appeared on Hendrix's album Are You Experienced.)
- Eli Levitt alludes to the Christian hymn Amazing Grace, mocking Mimecom as "A Mimezine grace".
- Reminiscences of Seconds and Marathon Man can be found in Harry's interrogation scene.
- Eli Levitt's death scene resembles the execution scene in Alphaville.
- Harry and Grace's kidnapped son, Peter, visits his mother in the rehabilitation centre, asking if she has been given the same treatment as Olivia de Havilland in The Snake Pit.
- Rebel Without a Cause is playing while Harry and Peter meet in a cinema.
- Early on in the first episode, Tully Woiwode and his sister discuss One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Brad Dourif (Chickie Levitt) debuted in this film.
- After Kreutzer has supposedly died, his son Coty states that he saw his body floating over the roof "like a Chagall".
- While being visited by Josie, Chickie Levitt prays the Jewish Kaddish.
- When asked about the effect the "Go chip" implantation will have on Kreutzer, his sister Josie explains, "he'll be like Christ".
- Buddhism is referenced numerous ways throughout the series. Several characters mutter, "Everything must go," an allusion to detachment. Hungry Ghosts, another Buddhist concept, is referenced in dialogue and by an episode title.
The recurring rhinoceros image is a symbol used by Keutzer's "Synthiotics" associates: Kreutzer's sister Josie tells his son Coty early on not to be afraid of the rhino. Later, Coty leaves one toy rhinoceros at the site of Gavin Whitehope's murder, another one is stuffed into the mouth of a murdered "Friends" collaborator. In Eugène Ionesco's play Rhinoceros, human individuals turn into rhinoceroses, symbolizing conformity and affirmation of a totalitarian mass movement. To character Paige Katz, the rhino also represents maternity.
In David Cronenberg's film Videodrome (1983), lenses manufacturer "Spectacular Optical" plans to change the viewers' perception of reality with their "Videodrome" program and forces TV station owner Max Renn to hand over his "Channel 83" for broadcast. In Wild Palms, the "Wild Palms Group" uses the "Mimecom" technique on its own "Channel 3" to manipulate their audience. In Videodrome, the organisation behind "Spectacular Optical" wants to release the viewers' potential aggressive energies and reinstate a strong North America which is currently "rotting from the inside". In Wild Palms, televised virtual realities are used to draw the audience's attention away from the state's increasing totalitarianism. In Videodrome, "Channel 83" owner Renn finally turns against the conspirators, killing their chief executive and shouting, "Death to Videodrome! Long live the New Flesh!" In Wild Palms, a manipulated video shows Harry murdering his wife Grace, proclaiming "Long live the Friends! Death to New Realism!"
In Philip K. Dick's novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965), consumers immerse into an artificial soap opera world, which appears virtually real by taking a drug called Can-D. In Wild Palms, the pseudo-realistic effect is enhanced by a drug called "Mimezine". In The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, a new drug appears on the market which enables its supplier, Palmer Eldritch, to affect the consumer's perception and personally appear in his altered reality. In Wild Palms, senator Kreutzer wants the "Go chip" implantated into his body which, as his sister Josie explains, will turn him into a hologram and enable him to enter everyone's dreams.
In addition to Ryuichi Sakamoto's music score, a number of 1960s rock and pop songs and classical compositions could be heard in the series. On the 1993 released soundtrack album, the following songs were included besides Sakamoto's music:
- The Zombies: She's Not There
- Don Gardner & Dee Dee Ford: I Need Your Lovin'
- Frankie Valli: Can't Take My Eyes Off You
- Lou Christie: Lightnin' Strikes
- Mason Williams: Classical Gas
The following songs and compositions can be heard in the series but are not featured on the album:
- The Animals: The House of the Rising Sun
- Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92, Second Movement
- The 5th Dimension: Wedding Bell Blues
- The Rolling Stones: Gimme Shelter
- The Rolling Stones: No Expectations
- The Supremes: Love Child
- Richard Wagner: Parsifal, Prelude
A book, The Wild Palms Reader, was published by St. Martin's Press before the series aired. It included time lines, secret letters, and character biographies. ABC, concerned that viewers might get "hopelessly lost in the tangled story line", arranged for the primer to be published. It also included writing supposedly from the "world of the series". Contributors included:
- Norman Spinrad – sci-fi writer (Bug Jack Barron, The Iron Dream)
- Genesis P. Orridge (anonymous) – musician (Psychic TV, Throbbing Gristle)
- E. Howard Hunt – CIA officer involved in the Watergate Scandal, writer of spy/sci-fi novels
- William Gibson – sci-fi writer
- Brenda Laurel – virtual reality consultant on the mini-series
- Spain Rodriguez – 1960s underground comic artist (Trashman)
- Hans Moravec – scientist and writer in the artificial intelligence field
While the comic series was published in book form in Germany, the Wild Palms Reader was not. Instead, a novelization, written by German dime novel author Horst Friedrichs, was published under the title Wild Palms.
Reviews of the series were mixed, yet some were decidedly positive. The New York Times critic John J. O'Connor called Wild Palms a "truly wild six-hour mini-series" resembling "nothing so much as an acid freak's fantasy, drenched in paranoia and more pop-culture allusions than a Dennis Miller monologue." He described it as "rich and insinuating as a good theatrical film, albeit harder to follow" and concluded, "You wanted something different? Here it is. And Wild Palms also happens to be terrific."
Ken Tucker in Entertainment Weekly stated that "in its length, scope, sweeping visual tableaux, and over-the-top passion, Wild Palms is more like an opera than a TV show." Comparing it to David Lynch's Twin Peaks, he decided that "unlike Peaks, which started out brilliantly lucid and then rambled into incoherence, Palms sustains its length and adds layers of complexity to its characters. It also has something crucial that Peaks did not: a sense of humor about itself."
Mary Harron of the British Independent suggested to "forget about the message, and about what the rhino means. Wild Palms should be watched like opera; for its gorgeous images, its emotional set-pieces and its high style."
Readers of the British trade weekly Broadcast were much more negative, calling it one of the worst television shows ever exported by the U.S. to the U.K. It placed fourth on their list, exceeded only by Baywatch, The Anna Nicole Show and The Dukes of Hazzard. TV Guide also blasted it, offering the interpretation that Oliver Stone was condemning television while covertly lauding cinematic films. 
Home media releases
Wild Palms was released on VHS cassette in the UK in 1993, where it aired between 15 November and 7 December the same year. It was released on CLV laserdisc in the U.S. in March 1995 and on VHS in various countries. It was released as a Region 4 DVD in Australia in 2004, a Region 1 DVD in the U.S. in 2005 and a Region 2 DVD in the UK in 2008.
- The Sunshiny Menace of "Wild Palms", review by John J. O'Connora in The New York Times, 16 May 1993, retrieved 2012-02-01.
- "Palms" Sunday, article by Benjamin Svetkey in Entertainment Weekly, 14 May 1993, retrieved 2012-02-01.
- Television: Never mind reality, just revel in the kitsch: 'Wild Palms' began as a cartoon strip, now it's a mini-series with a major twist, article by Mary Harron in The Independent, 7 November 1993, retrieved 2012-02-18.
- Aus dem Land der Alpträume, interview with Oliver Stone (in German) by Catherine Mayer in Focus 50/1993, 13 December 1993, retrieved 2012-02-03.
- Where the Holograms Go, entry in William Gibsons Blog, 22 July 2006, retrieved 2012-01-29.
- Wild Palms review by Ken Tucker in Entertainment Weekly, 14 May 1993, retrieved 2012-02-01.
- News about Wild Palms from IMDb
- Classification of the VHS release by the British Board of Film Classification.
- Laserdisc details from IMDb