Renaissance man and crazy genius, Harold Louis “Doc” Humes was an acclaimed novelist and the originator of The Paris Review, which became perhaps the greatest American literary institution ever. Now almost entirely forgotten, Doc’s was a life crammed full of adventures and ideas — about drugs, literature, protest, and politics. This film sheds light on an original mind as well as mental illness and the cultural history of post-war America.
Immy Humes — Doc’s daughter and an Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker — pieces together Doc’s story, weaving together footage and audio of Doc and a cast of family and illustrious friends: George Plimpton, the late editor of The Paris Review; writers Norman Mailer, Peter Matthiessen, Bill Styron, and Paul Auster; avant-garde filmmaker Jonas Mekas; critic Alan Cheuse; and Timothy Leary, pied piper of LSD.
Doc was the son of an engineer who set off for Paris from MIT in 1948. Falling in with a group of young Americans exhilarated by the end of the war, Doc started an English-language magazine that became The Paris Review.
Doc finished a degree at Harvard and then, in quick succession, published two novels. But Doc refused all categorization. He picked up the French model of the politically engaged artist, the artist as citizen above all. He led crusades for artists’ rights and against NYPD corruption. As Gay Talese writes, he “hit on a theory of cosmology that would jolt Descartes, played piano in a Harlem jazz club, shot a movie called Don Peyote, a Greenwich Village version of Don Quixote, and invented a paper house that is waterproof, fireproof and large enough for people to live in.”
But in the mid-60’s, after taking a lot of LSD in London with his old pal Timothy Leary, Doc began suffering paranoid delusions. He believed he was being followed, bugged, spied on — and he feared impending apocalypse.
For 20 years, Doc lived as a kind of self-appointed teacher, near or on campus at Princeton, Columbia, Bennington, and his alma mater, Harvard. An ever-changing group of students, “Docolytes,” fed him, put him up, and listened as he preached his social gospel.
Doc’s is a complicated, sad, and sometimes funny story, full of irony and sometimes buried history. After he died of cancer in 1992, a Freedom of Information Act request turned up almost a hundred pages of files — including notes from fellow-paranoiac J. Edgar Hoover himself. It turns out the U.S. government was keeping close tabs on Doc from 1948 in Paris to at least 1978 in Boston. As they say: Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t following you.
- Immy HumesProducer/Director