Nasmijani vilenjak pra-bitničke poezije i eksperimentalnog filma.
Spanning a decades-long artistic career, the collected films of James Broughton represent a remarkable body of work by a leading avant-garde American filmmaker–an undisputed master of the fusion of spoken poetry with moving images. A poet and dramatist as well as a filmmaker, Broughton has transformed all three of these forms into what Stan Brakhage called “an art of lifelong montage.”
Directed by Dawn Logsdon, Stephen Silha and Eric Slade this well-organized documentary allows access to the spectacularly messy yet fascinating life of the part time avant-garde filmmaker (The Pleasure Garden, The Bed), part-time poet and full-time bisexual troublemaker who, after a life ranging all over the Kinsey scale (poet Kermit Sheets, critic Pauline Kael and a marriage to one Susanna Hart), happily ended up with a man over thirty years his junior, Joel Singer. As the film shows, that happiness wasn’t shared by his ex-wife (who speaks of her understandable bitterness) and two daughters (who declined to go before the cameras at all). His son merely notes that his father while amiable wasn’t around very much. Featuring ample excerpts from Broughton’s films and several recorded comments by Kael inserted at appropriate points, Big Joy manages to be as enjoyable and unsettling as its subject. - www.fandor.com/
Laughing Pan: James Broughton
Ecstasy for all! says the pied piper of queer experimental film
Every movement has its muses. James Broughton probably would have copped to being a muse, or perhaps more accurately, a smiling spirit guide to pleasurable realms beyond the norm. It’s less likely he would have considered himself a leader of any movement. That in spite of the fact that by all accounts the West Coast experimental film scene was mostly his creation with two short films, The Potted Psalm (1946) and Mother’s Day (1948). Broughton is simply too individual for categorization, even when the evidence for labeling him this or that is overwhelming. But the lure of labels is too strong, so for the sake of shorthand, and with apologies to Broughton, let’s call him poet, avant-garde film artist, and Dionysian gay sage.
Broughton, born in Modesto, was 85 when he died in May 1999, and the SF Cinematheque celebrated his legacy in November 1999 with "Homage to James Broughton: Ecstasy for Everyone." This irresistible sampler starts with his beginnings with Mother’s Day and then moves into what for many fans is his most fruitful period from the late ‘60s to the early ‘80s.
Mother’s Day opens with a typically startling image, a send-up of the Pieta with a hapless man being cradled by a statue, one of a multiplicity of strange "mothers" in the film. Broughton’s playful attitude toward maturity and adulthood is evident immediately — this anti-tribute to Mother envisions Father as mostly a face in a frame, staring dourly; and the children as childlike adults, mindlessly playing hopscotch, shooting squirt guns, and fascinated by a spinning mandolin. The film uses titles in a mocking manner redolent of silent movies: "Mother was the loveliest woman in the world. And Mother wanted everything to be lovely." Mother’s Day has jarring undertones in its bizarre images of ruined buildings and inscrutable characters, but Broughton would take its motif of the child-man (and child-woman) and expand it to rhapsodic effect in his later work.
Broughton was apparently mostly busy in the 1950s and ‘60s with his poetry, but returned to filmmaking in 1968 with the fanciful The Bed. The film’s central image is arresting and hilariously absurd — an empty bed is traveling leisurely down a hill as if it were a car. Eventually it settles in a meadow and becomes the locus of all manner of strange scenarios and woodland trysts. Characters — mostly naked — appear suddenly on its sheets. Broughton pops in as a kind of laughing Pan, sitting nude in a tree serenading a series of revelers. He ridicules conventional rituals when a woman arrives and officiously begins making up the bed. More typical, though, are the polymorphous pleasures of wriggling bodies apparently liberated by the bed. Broughton brings nature in harmony with humanity in odd and intriguing ways, as when a woman in close-up encounters a spider and reaches out to kiss it. In another scene, a live lizard appears to slither out of a man’s mouth.
Broughton’s poetic skills are often highlighted in the films; such is the case in one of his boldest efforts, Song of the Godbody (1977). Here a male body — no doubt the filmmaker’s own, as it is featured in so much of his work — is shown in closeup, a kind of landscape of flesh that the camera lovingly surveys. Broughton’s beatific words accompany this exploration: "This is my body, which speaks for itself… This is my body, which sings of itself." The comparisons to Whitman are inevitable and Broughton is in a real sense Whitman’s heir, celebrating the male body and male bonding unabashedly, and going further than Whitman in ways made possible in part by Broughton’s appearance in the world decades later. What Whitman said, Broughton can say and show.
The Gardener of Eden (1981) is a brief document of his "honeymoon" with lover and frequent collaborator Joel Singer. The film was shot in Sri Lanka, and is typical in its treatment of the transporting beauty of nature and its positioning of the person as a fundamental part of it. Two years later he made the masterful Devotions, also with Singer. Set in San Francisco and featuring a gorgeous gamelan orchestra background, the film imagines an ecstatic world in which men are freed from tired, joyless convention. Broughton again appears as the sweet seer, playing a pipe, seducing his players into scintillating tableaux of union. His mostly naked men spend their time in loving embrace, washing each other, caressing, kissing. Broughton’s wit is never far away from his erotic celebrations: in one scene two men kiss on a rooftop, then slowly don nun’s habits and saunter away in the fading day. Later, a pair of leather queens whip up a soufflé. Without being the least bit polemical, this graceful film, like all his work, shows the sweet rewards that come from living authentically and, above all, joyfully. - brightlightsfilm.com/
James Broughton was a poet and experimental filmmaker associated with the San Francisco Renaissance.
He was born in Modesto, California into a wealthy family.
In his autobiography, James Broughton describes a visionary encounter while he was still a toddler:
I remember waking in the dark and hearing my parents arguing in the next room. But a more persistent sound, a kind of whirring whistle, spun a light across the ceiling. I stood up in my crib and looked into the backyard. Over a neighbor's palm tree a pulsing headlamp came whistling directly toward me. When it had whirled right up to my window, out of its radiance stepped a naked boy. He was at least three years older than I but he looked all ages at once. He had no wings, but I knew he was angel-sent: his laughing beauty illuminated the night and his melodious voice enraptured my ears�. He insisted I would always be a poet even if I tried not to be�.Despite what I might hear to the contrary the world was not a miserable prison, it was a playground for a nonstop tournament between stupidity and imagination. If I followed the game sharply enough, I could be a useful spokesman for Big Joy.
The family soon moved to San Francisco. When he was five, his father died. James was sent to military school at the age of nine. He later attended Stanford University.
In adulthood, James Broughton had both male and female lovers. He had an affair with the gay activist Harry Hay. He had two children with his wife, the artist Suzanna Hart. He also had a daughter with the well-known film critic, Pauline Kael. In his 60s, James Broughton formed a lasting relationship Joel Singer, a younger man he equated with the angel of his vision as a child. They remained together for nearly 25 years until Broughton's death.
He is perhaps best known for his avant garde films, exploring themes of sex, death, and meaning, earning him a lifetime achievement award from the American Film Institute. His poetry often mixes the Beat Zen sensibilities with a playful, pranksterish quality, summed up by his phrase, "Follow your own weird." (In modern usage, the word "weird" means "strange or odd," but originally the word meant "fate or destiny." I suspect he is teasing us by merging all these meanings.)
James Broughton died in 1999. His gravestone reads "Adventure -- not predicament."
Poems by James Broughton
Disc 1: The Early Years
Disc 2: A Middle Period
- The Bed (1968)
- The Golden Positions (1970)
- This Is It (1971)
- Dreamwood (1972)
- High Kukus (1973)
- Testament (1974)
- The Water Circle (1975)
- Erogeny (1976)
- Songs of the Godboy (1977)
- Hermes Bird (1979)
- The Gardener of Eden (1981)
- Devotions (1983)
- Scattered Remains (1988)
'Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton' an Ecstatic Portrait of the Artist
James Broughton refused to live an inauthentic life. And in fact he had many lives. He was a poet, a filmmaker, an artist, a gay man, a straight man and an all-around visionary.
Already well-received at Tribeca, SXSW and Frameline, "Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton" traces the life and times of this man of many parts. In the mid-20th century, Broughton found himself at the intersection of many Bay Area art and social movements, from the San Francisco Renaissance to the Beat Generation that rose after Allen Ginsberg first performed "Howl," that barbaric yawp of unchained imagination, in 1955.
Born and raised in Modesto, CA in 1913, Broughton moved to San Francisco to pursue a career in poetry until eventually he picked up a 16mm camera at a thrift store during one of many bouts of depression. Thus began a career in making poetic, lyrical, avant-garde short films that eventually took him to the Cannes Film Festival, where he was handed a prize by idol Jean Cocteau for his seminal cinematic work "The Pleasure Garden" (1953), a black-and-white flight of fantasia in which Broughton cast compatriots of his artistic milieu. Broughton gushed with personality, and he surrounded himself with others who did, too.
One of the film's many fascinating detours is a close look at his fraught relationship with film critic Pauline Kael, with whom he lived for a short period in North Beach. Before they parted ways over creative differences, she told him that abandoning his poet's roots for Hollywood would be the biggest mistake of his life. So he heeded her warning, firmly resisted selling out and continued to make his bizarre brand of experimental films, as formally daring and erotically charged as the early work of Kenneth Anger.
Because Broughton started filmmaking in 1930s San Francisco, any semblance of gayness had to be codified and contained in a subtext. But indeed the gay element is present. Rife with nudity, abstract bodies and gritty sensuality, Broughton's shorts are the centerpiece of "Big Joy," which weaves excerpts from the director's rarely seen oeuvre through an exploration of the man's profusely indulgent personal life.
Lovingly co-directed by Stephen Silha, Eric Slade and Dawn Logsdon, "Big Joy" is as exuberant and maddening as Broughton himself. The film courses with energy, vitality and, of course, joy, revealing a fascinating portrait of an unsung artist ahead of his time and never past his prime.- blogs.indiewire.com/
'Big Joy' Directors Stephen Silha and Eric Slade Talk About Capturing the Spirit of Poet and Filmmaker James Broughton
James Broughton turns 100 years old in November.
Although the poet, filmmaker and writer passed away in 1999, it almost feels inaccurate to talk of him in the past tense. One of the biggest themes that runs through "Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton," the new documentary by Stephen Silha and Eric Slade is that there was (and is) a timeless element to his work. Whether it's his deceptively simple poetry or the emotional exuberance of some of his experimental short films, Broughton's work seems as much of the present as it does of the past. "In a way, his work is more relevant to the 21st century than it was to the 20th," Silha told Indiewire.
"Big Joy" chronicles Broughton's personal journey as a member of the San Francisco Renaissance artistic movement and his individual achievements in the poetry and filmmaking fields. It also doesn't hesitate to show the various periods of both turmoil and satisfaction in Broughton's personal life, from his early relationship with film critic Pauline Kael, his marriage to collaborator Susanna Hart and his final decades alongside Joel Singer, a student with whom Broughton lived and worked until his death.
The film has had a busy year so far, playing at SXSW, Tribeca and Frameline in addition to SIFF. Monday night, it screens for LA audiences at Outfest. We had a chance to sit down with the Silha and Slade last month at the Seattle International Film Festival to discuss the directors' personal relationships with Broughton himself, important interview lessons and the moments that painfully couldn't quite make the final cut.
How long has this been something that you’ve been passionate about?
Stephen Silha: I had known James Broughton for the last ten years of his life. In the back of my head, I really wanted to do something to bring his work back into the world. I started doing research for a book, but then I realized that nobody would read the book because so few people have heard of him. His 23 experimental films were so groundbreaking and interestingly visual, so I realized it had to be a film. It wasn’t until 2008 that I finally said, “If I don’t do it now, I’m never going to do it.” So I went out to Port Townsend, did a ritual at his grave and through that process met one of our producers and cinematographers Ian Hinkle. Before that, I had talked to Eric because I realized if I was going to make a film I needed to work with people who knew what they were doing. I had seen Eric’s film about Harry Hay, “Hope Along the Wind,” which I just thought was great.
Eric Slade: I had met James at a Radical Faerie gathering at Wolf Creek in Southern Oregon in the late ‘80s. I had seen his groundbreaking film “The Bed” and that had stuck with me forever. So when Stephen and I started talking about it, I knew a little about James.
SS: I first encountered his work at the Museum of Modern Art when I was just wandering through one day. His films were playing in one of the small auditoriums and I just sat there, amazed at these visual, poetic images. Homoerotic, interestingly subtle and at the same time, out there. Ten years later, I was assigned to the same cabin with him and Joel [Singer] at the Radical Faerie Gatherings in Breitenbush Hot Springs. We became friends and James became a wonderful mentor for me.
How do you think your relationship with his work would have been different if you knew him first as a poet rather than a filmmaker?
SS: His poetry took me longer to get into. It seemed simplistic when I first encountered it. When we were making the film, we read his poetry all the time to try to infuse the creative process with his spirit. The more we delved into it, I really have come to appreciate his mastery of the English language and the way he worked and reworked those poems.
ES: When we first started working on the film, I think one of the challenges was going to be “How do we not make it look like he was just a filmmaker?” But after reading lots and lots of his poetry, I think we really distilled down to some of his best little nuggets in the film. Filmmaking can be this quasi-military endeavor sometimes. It’s expensive, you want to get the most out of your crew for the day. You go into a shoot and say, “Let’s go!” But when we’d sit down for an interview, Stephen would say, “Let’s light a candle....Now let’s read a poem before we start.” Every time we’d meet to discuss the next step as a group, we’d pass a book of poetry around and read it.
It helps that you not only have other people reading his work, but you have footage of him reading it too.
SS: There wasn’t as much usable footage of him reading his own poetry as we would have liked.
ES: There’s a lot of audio recording of him reading. So we just had to find different visual devices to do that. And how do you turn his journal entries, which are just words on a page, into a major element of the film? Stephen had met this incredibly talented animator, Michael Mann, at a conference in Vancouver. When he came onto the project, things changed a lot. Between his animation and Davey Havok reading his poetry, they both did a beautiful job.
SS: The fact that he journaled from age 13 until he died was a great gift to the film. A lot of documentaries don’t have the inner life of the poet the way this one does.
ES: His journals and his home movies were things that he never created with the idea of a wide audience and never intended to be read or be seen by the public. So you get that inner journey that you would have missed otherwise.
SS: There are even some times where what he said in his journal was different from what he said in his memoir.
I imagine that a lot of people who see this don’t know much about James Broughton, but also don’t know much about the culture he came out of. How did you decide how much to emphasize the background of the movement and the area versus just James himself?
SS: We discovered, in doing our research, that he was such a seminal figure in that San Francisco Renaissance period, but no one’s ever done a documentary about it. And you could argue that it’s more important than the Beat movement. It’s just that Allen Ginsberg was such a great publicist. They came and did the Beat thing in the soil that had been created over ten years in San Francisco by Broughton, [Jack] Spicer, [Robert] Duncan, [Kenneth] Rexroth, Madeline Gleason, Anna Halprin and all of their friends. We definitely needed to tell that side of the story too. We were doing an interview with Keith Hennessy, the performance artist. “The Crazy Professor,” I call him. He said, “Whenever I go on stage I feel like I’m standing on Broughton’s shoulders. I’m very influenced by his work.” We did the interview right before a performance of a piece called “Crotch” that he was doing in San Francisco. As part of the performance, he did a seven-minute history of queer performance art on a sheet of plastic. I asked him if he could do one for James Broughton.
ES: There’s so much to say. That clearly could be its own documentary. Keith’s able to cram in a whole bunch of stuff in an entertaining way. One of the comments from the rough-cut screeners was, “That’s the element that lets me know that I’m not watching an American Masters PBS documentary.”
You could also probably fill up an entire documentary with just Broughton’s personal life. Again, was there a specific line you drew when giving background on his family relationships?
ES: The thing was always: come back to the story. What moves the story ahead and in the best way? By following the story, one thing leads to another. Him making “Erogeny” led him to open back up to the idea of love with men, which led him to his relationship with Joel. Immersing ourselves long enough in the story, we just saw the thread, how it carried from one to the other. Pauline Kael was out of the film many times because there aren’t any photos of Pauline and James together.
SS: He said that it’s more important to live poetically than to be a good poet. So what does it mean to live poetically? What is the personal life? How does that play into his work?
SS: That interview itself was powerful partly because Eric had coached me. He said, “Be careful not to emote verbally because after the pause, sometimes you get the best things.” It was our first interview we did together and I was really biting my tongue. Susanna was pre-Alzheimer’s at that time and it wasn’t until we showed her the wedding program that she had calligraphed that her memory started coming back. The first few questions were “I don’t remember...I don’t remember.” But then we she saw that and we had her read the poem he wrote about her, then it started to come back. It was a very interesting interview and I think Dawn [Logsdon] did a great job in the editing, deciding exactly how to make that work.
ES: I like that Susanna comes back at the very end reading “This is It.” You get the sense that it might have been traumatic, but yet she’s still on board for the whole James Broughton project. We didn’t want her to look like the victim, because she’s clearly not the victim. She went willingly into this marriage knowing she was marrying a gay man or someone that had at least had gay relationships. I think it was one of the best parts of her life and she was sad when it ended. There’s damage that comes along the way when you live your true path and we wanted to show that.
Was having everyone read “This is It” an idea that you had at the beginning or was that something that popped up organically?
ES: I just said, “Let’s have everyone read that poem.” I didn’t know what we were going to do with it. I had abandoned the idea towards the end, in the edit. But then our assistant editor, Kyung Lee (who is really great) came in one day and she said, “I just did this. What do you think?” We said, “Oh my God, that’s great!”
SS: The rhythm in that is so perfect. We agonized a lot about how to end the film. How to begin it and how to end it were the hardest.
ES: I’ve done a lot of film projects where you make sure everyone does the same thing and then you edit it all together. It’s kind of a trope, but Kyung found a way to cut it that made it so fresh. We also have all these people reading poems that you’ve never met before. You get the sense that his spirit is going out into the universe.
If James was working today, is there a particular format or style that he would seized upon?
SS: I think he would be into transmedia, experimenting with how you can use a film to get people to perform. He was, in a way, doing transmedia when he got dancers and people to improvise while shooting the film, then would show the film and sometimes do poetry readings in concert with those.
ES: One of the cool things about James is that each film was not only a new topic, but a new way of making films. You see new, wildly different styles that go through his work. He would have kept evolving, for sure. He was an expert craftsman. I think his work would have gotten sharper and sharper and clearer and clearer.
SS: If YouTube was around when he was doing it, he’d be well-known. But because all his films were different, because all his 23 books of poetry were slightly different, there wasn’t a niche that anybody could put him in. It’s one of the reasons we made the film.
Was there a particular work of his that you came to appreciate more over the course of making “Big Joy?”
SS: I think “Erogeny” is one of his best films. It’s this very short film that goes with the poem of the same name. It was really important to me to put those oases like that in “Big Joy” where you really dive into the work.
ES: To have some places where there’s just music and pictures for a while is nice. The one that I really came to appreciate actually isn’t in the film. It’s called “Dreamwood.” It’s his longest film. It’s a very Jungian, deep archetypal imagery film. When I first started working on “Big Joy,” I skimmed through everything just to see what the imagery looked like. But when you actually watch “Dreamwood,” it’s deep and very moving.
SS: Well, it culminates with the hero fucking the Earth. [laughs]
ES: Yep. It does. And it’s beautiful! It really is. That’s one that I really came to appreciate.
SS: Also “Devotions,” the film about all the different ways that men love each other. Very refreshing, fascinating and funny film.
ES: But “The Bed” is still my favorite. I never grow tired of watching it. The imagery is so vivid and so exciting.
For those unfamiliar with Broughton’s work, would you prefer they come to your film with a surface-level knowledge of his films? Or would you have them start with “Big Joy” first and then know the journey that went into his work?
SS: I think it makes more sense to see “Big Joy” first and then to see his films. Seeing them without context, you don’t quite get how amazing they are.
ES: I agree. Some people who see his films fall totally in love. But most people, like with much of experimental film, see it and think, “....Huh.” You have to really sit with it, and some of them you have to see a couple of times before you get all these deep layers. If you see “Big Joy” first, you’ll understand what went into them. I hope everyone who comes out of the film thinks, “I want to see ‘The Bed!’”
I’m guessing there’s a bunch of material you weren’t able to use. Any plans for those?
ES: One of his books, “Making Light of It,” has all these great aphorisms in it. One of them is “Simplify, clarify, vivify.”
SS: “And when in doubt, cut.”
ES: So our editor put those on the wall when she was cutting the film.
SS: I would love to make some of the interviews available online. We’re hoping to do an educational curriculum that would help people understand the San Francisco Renaissance and Broughton’s role in gay culture and hippie culture. That’s why I’m taking a couple of years before diving into another project. I’m trying to get this out into the world and amplify its potential.
ES: It’s really cool to see people writing about the film now, particularly about Broughton as though they’d known about him or as if they almost knew about him but just missed him. He didn’t get the media attention that he deserved, but now he is. It’s great to see that happening. That was always our goal, to make something that’s an experiential prayer that you live through that is the spirit of James Broughton. We get that reaction from people, that they come of the theater saying, “We want to go live a bigger life” or that they want to embrace their own spirit in a bigger way. That’s the most satisfying thing, that it can have that impact on people. - www.indiewire.com/