Laura Huxley Has Her Say About Laura Huxley in 'Huxley on Huxley'

Aldous Huxley's second wife discusses her life before, during and after her marriage to the eminent author of Brave New World and The Doors of Perception.

Huxley on Huxley

Director: Mary Ann Braubach
Cast: Aldous Huxley, Laura Huxley, Ram Dass, Don Bachardy
Distributor: Docurama
Studio: Braubach Productions
Release Date: 2010-07-27

It’s a bit of a puzzle as to what the title of Mary Ann Braubach’s documentary Huxley on Huxley refers to. Publicity materials suggest the film will present Laura Huxley’s reflections on her husband Aldous (the DVD jacket says that it offers “An intimate glimpse of literary giant ALDOUS HUXLEY from the woman who knew him best”), but after watching the film I’d have to say the real subject is Laura Huxley’s reflections about herself.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, providing you are interested in her life and work, but it’s surely a harder sell to the general public than a film about her more famous husband. Let’s see: Aldous wrote A Brave New World and was one of the leading public intellectuals of the 20th century while Laura wrote several self-help books and a memoir of her husband.

The most interesting aspect of Laura Huxley’s life, to me at least, is that she lived through most of the 20th century and took part in or was affected by many of the major historical events and social currents of the times. She was born Laura Archera in Italy in 1911 and was a violin prodigy who performed at Carnegie Hall in 1937. Finding herself unable to return home because of World War II, she went to Hollywood where she worked as a film editor (rather briefly and unsuccessfully according to her own testimony).

She met Aldous Huxley in 1948 while seeking an author for a documentary film she was planning and married him in 1956 after the death of Huxley’s first wife Maria. Their home was meeting place for the mid-century Hollywood intellectual elite: regular guests included Orson Welles, Igor Stravinsky, Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy. She became a psychotherapist (exactly what that means in terms of training and practice is not made clear in this film), participated in some of her husband’s experiments with mind-altering drugs and aspects of the Human Potential movement, and published several best-selling self-help books of which the most famous may be is You are Not the Target.

The film is structured around video interviews with Laura Huxley (by my calculations she would have been in her 80s at the time), which gives the film a rambling, unfocused quality and will try the patience of viewers hoping for more hard information and analysis. I will grant that she’s pretty sharp and has some interesting things to say, but still there’s way too much of Laura Huxley exercising on the treadmill, Laura Huxley attempting to play the trumpet and Laura Huxley cavorting with her great grand-nephews as if she were your favorite elderly relative and therefore everything she did was of intrinsic interest.

Now and then, as if remembering the promises made on the DVD jacket, the film shows us Aldous Huxley being interviewed by Mike Wallace or Edward R. Murrow or treats us to heavy-handed narration such as “Aldous, a searing social critic, wrote essays, books and articles on topics that are still relevant today.” By failing to pick a lane, if you will, the film succeeds neither as a portrait of Laura Huxley (among other things, it fails to convince the viewer of why she is worth 58-minutes of their time) while failing to provide much in the way of new information about Aldous Huxley. The film features is a steady succession of talking heads including Don Bachardy, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Nick Nolte with others (including Timothy Leary and Christopher Isherwood) appearing on archival footage but much of what they have to say is heavier on anecdote than substance.

The most useful part of this documentary is the attention paid to the Huxley’s experiments with psychedelic drugs including LSD and mescaline (a fact not frequently emphasized in my school curriculum, to be sure). Aldous Huxley, patrician to the core, felt that such drugs were properly used as a path to self-enlightenment and should be restricted to “learned people” who were presumably deserving of such insights and able to handle them. This contrasts with his acquaintance Timothy Leary, who thought everyone should have access. How wonderfully ironic, then, that Huxley’s 1954 book The Doors of Perception should have supplied the name for a certain psychedelic rock band featuring Jim Morrison as their lead singer (a point confirmed in this film in an interview with Doors’ drummer John Densmore).

Extras on the disc include 46-minutes of “interview outtakes” (unused footage) and a seven-minute photo montage which feels like a core dump, as if the filmmaker wanted to include every picture in her possession on the disc but wasn’t interested in taking the time to add identifying information which would have made them more useful to the viewer. True, many are photos of Laura and/or Aldous, but information about the date and place, at a minimum, would have been welcome.

In the end I’m not sure who, beyond people who are endlessly fascinated by the Huxleys and/or the human potential movement, constitute the market for this film. The 58-minute length suggests that public television was an initial target (although the publicity materials don’t mention an airing dates) and it’s also a format that would work well for schools although students may quickly lose patience with the rambling nature of the presentation.





12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.


Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.


Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."


David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.


On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.


Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.


Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.


Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."


How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.