Pubdate: Fri, 27 Nov 2020 Source: Wall Street Journal (US) Copyright: 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Contact: http://www.wsj.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/487 Author: John Anderson TALES OF THE HIGH LIFE In approaching Errol Morris's "My Psychedelic Love Story," it doesn't hurt to have some familiarity with "Wormwood," the 2017 Netflix docudrama miniseries. In it, the fabled documentarian told the story of Frank Olson, a CIA employee who mysteriously fell to his death in 1953 nine days after being slipped LSD as part of an agency experiment. Was he pushed or did he jump? Was hippie socialite Joanna Harcourt-Smith being used as a CIA tool when her boyfriend, Timothy Leary, became a government informant in the mid-'70s? And what in the world is the connection? LSD, for one thing. Leary, a psychologist who'd been fired from Harvard for his early experimentation with psychedelic drugs, was considered the "high priest" (all puns intended) of hallucinogens and at one point was dubbed the most dangerous man in America by Richard M. Nixon. Ms. Harcourt-Smith, who became involved with Leary in the '70s after his escape from prison, was what was usually termed a jet-setter, a happy vagabond with an ornate pedigree, a luxurious lifestyle and no visible means of support. She delivers a veritable torrent of stories for Mr. Morris, who for all his cerebral meditations on objective truth is essentially a storyteller himself. She also wonders, 40 years later and after having seen "Wormwood," whether her role in Leary's downfall had been a part of the War on Drugs. Based on Ms. Harcourt-Smith's 2013 memoir, "Tripping the Bardo With Timothy Leary: My Psychedelic Love Story" (she died in October), the Morris film is basically one long narrative, a name-dropping extravaganza: Those with whom Ms. Harcourt-Smith enjoyed fewer than six degrees of separation include the Rolling Stones, Diane von Furstenberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Adnan Khashoggi, Andy Warhol, Charles Manson and Benito Mussolini. Her mother gave birth to her in St. Moritz, Switzerland, while playing bridge. She claims her stepfather, Arpad Plesch, who married both her grandmother and mother, swindled and then denounced fellow Jews during the Holocaust. She and Leary took acid while inside Folsom Prison (where Leary had the cell next to Manson's). The tales are flamboyant. They may even be true. Mr. Morris is among the most intellectual of documentary makers, but on an artisanal level his trademark is the head-on confrontation, the face-to-face interview. In refining that process, he developed the Interrotron, which enables him to interview a subject eye-to-eye while still having that subject look directly into the camera. (It was first used on the Oscar-winning "The Fog of War.") In "My Psychedelic Love Story" (available Sunday at 9 p.m. on Showtime), he has taken the mechanics of movie journalism a step further: Ms. Harcourt-Smith, who is a captivating narrator and knows how to balance shameless charm and self-effacement, is shot with four cameras and shown from various angles inside the film's Massachusetts interview location. There are virtually no interruptions to her story or statements, none of the conventional cuts. Even as she's telling some tale, the perspective moves around the room, the effect being a further fragmentation of the reality being recounted, or created. It's not an entirely new thing, but it's a film-nerd treat and a fascinating technique, almost as fascinating as the subject herself. -Mr. Anderson is a Journal TV critic. Joe Morgenstern is on vacation.