Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Paul Davids
Running Time:80 minutes.
The Moody Blues were rather prescient with their lyric “Timothy Leary’s dead”, from the song Legend Of A Mind.
Timothy Leary was the counter culture hero, who in the heady ’60’s, urged a generation to “turn on, tune in and drop out.” Through this fascinating but unconventional documentary director Paul Davids (co-writer of the tv movie Roswell) paints a warts and all portrait of Leary, widely acknowledged as one of the central figures of the ’60’s. Leary heartily embraced new philosophies and technologies, and even planned to commit suicide on the net, before he eventually succumbed to inoperable prostate cancer in 1996. It was the way in which Leary faced his imminent death, with a sense of optimism, that finally gave Davids the opportunity to get this film made.
In intimate detail Davids explores Leary’s influence on a generation, and puts his life into perspective by tracing the last year of his life as he prepared himself for the inevitable. Davids uses in-depth interviews with both associates and Leary himself, as well as archival newsreel footage, to illustrate the life of this pop culture guru who rose to prominence as an anti- establishment figure in the era of drugs, hippies, protest movements and Woodstock.
Davids follows Leary’s controversial life and career, from his early years at Harvard, through his imprisonment for possession of marijuana, through to his Millbrook estate commune, and on to the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco. This informative and well-researched documentary explores how Leary’s ideas threatened the establishment, and suggests that he was persecuted for daring to express his ideas. In an ironic counterpoint Davids points out the fate of many of his detractors, such as Richard Nixon, who called him “the most dangerous man alive”, and G Gordon Liddy, who all fell victim to scandals largely of their own making.
There is even a rather graphic and shocking sequence in which Leary is surgically decapitated so that his brain can be cryogenically frozen and stored. However, there are hints that this sequence was merely staged for the cameras as a final cosmic joke from one of the more controversial figures of the beat era.