To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Morris reveals the genius behind his drug-centered series ‘Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia’

There was truly not a more suitable way to spend the eve of Valentine’s Day than to join the 60 or so people in attendance for a screening of an episode of “Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia” in the Wasserman Cinematheque. Although venturing out to the International School of Business where the Cinematheque is located may have deterred some students from attending, I overheard one audience member reveal that he traveled all the way from Boston University just to attend this screening and to behold the man and the brain behind the informational yet entertaining Viceland series—Hamilton Morris.

Morris, who grew up in nearby Cambridge, has a subtle presence in a room, nearly undetectable. He stood in the back of the theater, speaking briefly to a couple of individuals before stowing himself away in a seat until he was welcomed onstage to introduce the segment. After a few words describing what we would eventually see for ourselves in the following minutes, Morris sauntered back to his seat, and the generous screen of the Cinematheque lit up with the episode, titled “The Lazy Lizard School of Hedonism.”

What is the Lazy Lizard School of Hedonism? It is a group consisting of drug researcher Darrell Lemaire and his friends who, decades ago, experimented with psychedelic substances before the United States government imposed heavy bans on these drugs. Morris, a chemist-journalist-documentarian, unravels the enticing history of Lemaire, his mentee Casey Hardison, and their pursuit to create, experiment with and distribute psychedelics in spite of extremely punitive federal restrictions.

Aside from providing bits of charming narration, indulging us in a chemistry lesson or two, and clarifying what his subjects are trying to convey, Morris takes to the background of his show, allowing the focus to center on the story itself and those who tell it the best—the people involved. Morris knows just the right questions to ask, gently unearthing the fascinating experiences and passionate philosophies of Hardison and Lemaire.

After the screening, Morris took to the spotlight once again for a question and answer session. He traced back the journey of how he sprung from chemist to journalist to documentarian, the lattermost role being one that he is least fond of. Morris expressed that he is not confident that videography is the most substantive way to convey information and admitted he would rather be a writer than a documentarian. However, Vice convinced Morris that the stories and research expressed in his articles would be better suited and received in a television show, which is how “Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia” was created.

Morris also made note of the “multi-year process” required of him to cultivate trusting relationships between him and his subjects. After all, Hardison and Lemaire were effectively fugitives (although Hardison was jailed for manufacturing psychedelic drugs), and their histories remained confidential between them and members of the Lazy Lizard School of Hedonism. Although the chemistry (no pun intended) between Morris and his interviewees seems so natural on camera, Morris expressed his frustration that this particular episode took years to film because of Lemaire’s hesitation to divulge information publicly that could certainly incriminate him (although this is less of a fear now that Lemaire is in his 90s).

As for Morris’ future projects, he disclosed that production had just begun on the second season of “Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia,” after the first season of the show finished in early December 2016. Morris also briefly discussed a book he is attempting to write—an investigation into the murder of Steven Pollock, who had ties to psychedelic mushrooms. However, Morris admitted that he had stumbled upon complications and the book’s progress has been stalled.

If you have ever seen an episode of “Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia,” it is difficult—perhaps impossible—to distinguish the man onscreen from the man standing across from you answering questions. Morris’ modest behavior, sharpness of wit and wealth of knowledge do not shut down with the flex of a remote. During the evening’s Q&A segment, his personality did not flicker in the slightest. His humor maintained its charming subtlety, and his scientific expertise was present, but not flaunted. Even after the Q&A came to a close, Morris hung around to sign posters, take pictures and answer any additional harbored questions from audience members.

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