Immy Humes’s absorbing documentary about her father, H.L. Humes, could have been subtitled Portrait of the Artist as a Madman. The elder Humes, known affectionately as Doc, was a cultural meteor blazing through the 1950s and early ’60s: He cofounded The Paris Review and dazzled the literary world with his novels The Underground City and Men Die. He also shot an underground movie with the arch title of Don Peyote, designed an economical and eco-friendly paper house, and demonstrated for the right to sing folk songs in Washington Square Park. In the mid-’60s, however, this manic personality descended precipitously into mental illness. By the ’80s, Humes was still holding forth—brilliant and totally nuts—at his impromptu “Floating University,” a bearded hippie patriarch advocating marijuana and massage.
Peers such as the late George Plimpton, William Styron and Norman Mailer—all interviewed here—are better remembered than Humes, who died in 1992. Yet in Doc, he emerges as a quintessential countercultural figure, embodying both the exuberance and the excesses of the times. More poignantly, Immy Humes finds redemption for the father who was often too preoccupied or too sick to tend to his family. “[You] never fall out of love with anybody that you’ve ever loved,” he tells her shortly before his death. “I’ve done exhaustive research on that subject.… And it has exhausted me.”