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The Doc Tank

Immy Humes' documentary about her late father Harold L. Humes has a poignancy that comes not only from its subject -- a largely forgotten but highly important literary figure of the late 1950 and early '60s -- but also from the inclusion of interviews with such departed contemporaries as Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, William Styron and Timothy Leary.

Thus, "Doc" is as much a portrait of a vanished cultural era as it is an effort to reclaim one man's reputation. The film recently received its theatrical premiere at New York's Film Forum.

Harold Humes, whose nickname gives the film its title, published two highly acclaimed novels -- "The Underground City" and "Men Die" -- in 1958 and '59. His other accomplishments include co-founding (with Plimpton and Peter Matthiessen) the literary journal the Paris Review; managing Mailer's aborted 1961 political run for New York mayor; leading the protests against New York's cabaret card laws and the banning of folk music in Washington Square Park; designing and building a durable paper house meant to solve third-world housing shortages; championing the use of medical (and not so medical) marijuana; and making an avant-garde film titled "Don Peyote."

In later years he succumbed to mental illness, displaying a rabid paranoia that can now be partially justified because of the recent release of documents detailing the surveillance conducted of him by the CIA and FBI.

While the filmmaker's approach can feel slightly scattershot at times, the inherent fascination of her subject, who died in 1992, provides ample compensation. Particularly engrossing is the footage of him in his later years, when he was a traveling "hipster prophet" preaching the virtues of marijuana and massage on college campuses.

A happy footnote to the story is that the writer's novels, out of print for more than half a century, have just been reissued by Random House.
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