Talk About A Head Trip

THE MOST SHOCKING SCENE IN A movie you have never seen occurs in a documentary that is sure to cause a furor at the upcoming Venice and Toronto film festivals. At the end of ""Timothy Leary's Dead,'' about the late guru of mind-expansion, the viewer is transported to what looks to be a hospital room. There, surgeons hovering over Leary's corpse proceed to decapitate ""the Messiah of LSD'' in all too vivid detail. His famous, unmistakable head is lifted from his body and placed inside a glass-covered cryonics cabinet to be frozen, where it stares out at the stunned, queasy viewer.

But wait. Wasn't it widely reported that shortly before his death Leary changed his mind about having his brain cryonically preserved? And what is the meaning of the scene during the closing credits of Paul Davids's documentary (at least in the unfinished cut we saw) in which Leary, still alive, is being fitted for a life mask? Is this a hint that the appalling surgical drama was, in fact, staged using a cast of his head?

When we described the head-severing scene to Zachary Leary, Tim's 22-year-old stepson, all he could say was ""Oh, God. That never happened.'' He insists that when Leary was cremated he was completely intact -- and that filmmaker Davids wasn't even around any time near the death. ""Davids pissed off a lot of people, and pissed off Tim.'' (Zach has not yet been allowed to see the film.) An- other intimate, writer Douglas Rushkoff, screeched upon hearing of the scene: ""It's a prank!''

And what does Davids say? Is it real or not? ""I'd have to say point-blank that Leary asked me never to discuss it in a way that would absolutely craft it one way or another. It's deliberately shown the way it is. It's like "The Crying Game.' It's not intended to be exploitational; it's intended to give people something to talk about.'' He sees no problem sticking fiction in a documentary? ""A documentary is an artistic form. I think that, uh, if you define things too narrowly, you close yourself to what a director can do to make you think.''

Right. Well, we thought about it when we thought it was real and we felt it crossed the line. We thought about it when we were told it was faked and couldn't think of one sane reason why it was there. And we're curious to see, when the film gets released, if it's submitted to some radical surgery of its own.