Cary Grant in Charade (1963)

n the late 1950s, at the height of his fame, Cary Grant set off on a trip in search of his true self, unpicking the myth he had spent three decades perfecting. He tried hypnosis and yoga and felt that they both came up short. So he began dropping acid and claimed to have found inner peace. “During my LSD sessions, I would learn a great deal,” he would later remark. “And the result was a rebirth. I finally got where I wanted to go.”

Grant’s adventures in psychedelia – an estimated 100 sessions, spanning the years 1958-1961 – provide the basis for Becoming Cary Grant, a fascinating documentary that plays at next week’s Cannes film festival. It’s a film that takes its lead from Grant himself, undressing and probing the star of North by Northwestto the point where the very title risks feeling like a red herring. “Like all documentary makers, we started out looking at the construction of Cary Grant,” says producer Nick Ware. “But we ended up deconstructing him through the LSD sessions.”

If the film never quite manages to pin the actor like a butterfly, that’s probably for the best. Grant spent his life as a creature in flight. His mercurial nature was the making of him – a peculiarly Gatsby-esque urge that allowed a Bristol street urchin named Archie Leach to reimagine himself as an American prince, the embodiment of Hollywood grace and glamour. Even so, the documentary does a good job in showing what spurred him, what spooked him and how – wittingly or not – he dragged his former identity along for the ride. “I have spent the greater part of my life fluctuating between Archie Leach and Cary Grant,” he once confessed. “Unsure of each, suspecting each.” It was this tension, this friction that struck such sparks on the screen


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