Trip Out with Timothy Leary’s Ex-Girlfriend in My Psychedelic Love Story
My Psychedelic Love Story. Showtime. Sunday, November 29, 9 p.m.
“In order to use your head, you have to go out of your mind,” LSD guru Timothy Leary once told a reporter. It’s an aphorism that Joanna Harcourt-Smith, one of his many girlfriends, took to heart. After a whirlwind and drug-addled romance with Leary, she spent nearly four years trying to get him out of prison, lying and whoring and snitching and plotting murders and stinging his followers with fake drug deals in the process. Her reward was to get unceremoniously dumped almost immediately after he was released.
My Psychedelic Love Story is Harcourt-Smith’s nutty post-mortem torch song to Leary (he died in 1996, she last month) as well as a half-hearted attempt to settle some old feuds with her 1970s companions. It’s also a sign that that the celebrated documentarian Errol Morris, who adapted this documentary from a 2013 memoir by Harcourt-Smith, is as talented as ever—maybe more so—but also on the verge of becoming dangerously unhinged.
Morris is known for documentaries featuring penetrating investigations and incisive interviews. But his last one, Wormwood, an account of the death of a CIA germ warfare researcher who sailed out a window after being secretly dosed with LSD, was hugely speculative and dismayingly flighty. My Psychedelic Love Story wanders further and perhaps irretrievably down that path.
Only baby boomers—and perhaps few of them—are likely to recognize Harcourt-Smith, the documentary’s main subject. Hers was, for a brief interlude, a household name in the post-1960s counterculture as the handmaiden of Leary, a Harvard psychologist whose research into LSD turned him into a giddy Johnny Acidseed, spreading the good word about the drug while preaching his gospel of “turn on, tune in, drop out.” In 1972, she hooked up with him in Switzerland, where he was hiding out after escaping from a California prison with the aid of the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers.
Harcourt-Smith was barely aware of who Leary was when they first met. But the news that the FBI was after him titillated her (“I always wanted to be with an outlaw”), and she was certainly no stranger to drugs. Seekin
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