Harold "Doc" Humes was a flat stone, skipping across the surface of the late 20th-century literary world. He covered a lot of ground, but never plunged very deeply into anything. He founded the Paris Review but soon left to study writing at Harvard, wrote two highly praised but soon-forgotten novels (The Underground City and Men Die), managed Norman Mailer's mayoral campaign, and spent the final 20 years of his life as a paranoid hobo-savant who bummed around Columbia, Princeton, Bennington, and Harvard, wheedling his way into students' apartments to lecture on philosophy, marijuana, clouds, massage, and government conspiracies for days at a time. He fathered several children—by several women—who barely remember him. Though he was on speaking, drinking, and smoking terms with James Baldwin, Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, Timothy Leary, and Peter Matthiesson, he never ascended to their pantheon. Doc is more notable for his absence than his presence.

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This rehabilitative documentary, made by his daughter Immy Humes, wants to change that. Cobbled together from interviews with his family and famous friends, Doc covers his innovations, patents, writing, arrests, film project (an adaptation of Don Quixote entitled Don Peyote), heroically long lectures, and descent into madness and cancer.

Doc's tragedy was to be less successful than the people who surrounded him, and Doc's most interesting moments are confessional asides by the documentary's more august contributors: Mailer regretting that he stabbed his second wife at a party (Doc was in the room), Matthiesson squirming while explaining that he worked as a CIA agent and used the Paris Review as his cover, and all of them wishing the world had been kinder to Doc, and vice versa. The documentary's redemptive mission is only partly successful. We learn that he threw his weight behind several important cultural undertakings, but that his mental illness—for which he refused treatment until the bitter end—caused him to beat at least one of his wives, neglect his kids, and be more interested in himself than anything. Such are the dangers of exposure. recommended

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