Wednesday, March 19, 2014

AFA hosts BIG JOY, Stephen Silha/Eric Slade's doc on one of our lesser known icons, James Broughton, along with ten of Broughton's films

Surely I've heard (or read) the name James Broughton a number of times during my life, particularly, I suspect, in the company/subject of the Beat Generation: Ginsberg, Kerouac et al. But I managed not to be curious enough about the name or the man attached to it to do further sleuthing. Now, thankfully, I don't have to because a couple of smart, talented filmmakers, Stephen Silha (shown below, right) and Eric Slade (below, left), aided by their editor and co-director, Dawn Logsdon (further below, left), have done it for me, producing a first-class documentary -- BIG JOY: THE ADVENTURES OF JAMES BROUGHTON -- about this classy, talented, ahead-of-his-time poet and filmmaker (among other skills) who lived the kind of life that many of us might choose, had we only balls enough to pursue it.

"When in doubt, twirl!" is one of the first quotes we hear from this guy, and, yes, we think: Of course! "Broughton was a trickster," somebody on-screen soon explains, and this makes perfect sense, as well. If you were a gay man back in mid-20th-century America, you had to survive on your wits and sleight-of-hand. If Broughton might have appeared a little effete, still he managed to attract and sometimes
seduce the ladies, including, yes, famous film critic Pauline Kael, fathering her daughter, even if he did not stick around long enough to help raise the child. Broughton would later marry and spawn a son (whom the movie-makers interview, along with many, many other friends and collaborators)  before at last meeting and falling head over heels for the man who would become the love of his life, a fellow named Joel Singer, some 35 years Broughton's junior.

In between all this (and continuing after it), there was the creativity: the dancing, the poetry, and especially the films. Fleeing to London in the early 50s with his then-partner Kermit Sheets to escape the McCarthy-inspired witch hunts, Broughton, who made mostly short films, there created one of his most famous:  The Pleasure Garden, which won a special prize at the Cannes Film Festival, with the award handed to Mr. B by one of his idols, Jean Cocteau.

Among his many films, The Bed is probably best known of all -- for its funny, loony use of the title object, which Broughton, shown at right and below, fills with naked men and women doing just what you'd imagine. And more. Groundbreaking in a number of ways, The Bed appeared in 1968, precisely the right time for a breakout like this one.

Silha, Slade & Logsdon have put together a frisky, fleet and immensely enjoyable film of which, one imagines, Broughton himself would have approved. While it does enshrine its subject in a lot of humor and good will, it also makes clear the fellow's dark side, along with how difficult it must have been for women like Kael (who indeed encouraged and contributed to Broughton's film-making) and the man's later wife, who at one point on camera nearly breaks down, as she remembers her love for the man and the immense loss of him she experienced when he left her for Mr. Singer (shown below, left).

We also learn about the philosopher Alan Watts (lately such an important part of Her), and how he claimed that Broughton was the only person who understood him -- and who truly understood the playful aspect of zen.

The finale brings together so many of the people we've heard from, now all reading, one after another, a short phrase from one of Broughton's poems. This is an inspired, lovely ending to a film that seems very nearly as original as its subject. You're likely to come away wishing you'd known this man. Meanwhile, we've got Big Joy, as well as Broughton's films and poems, to fill the gap.

Thanks to Anthology Film Archives, Big Joy is having its theatrical premiere here in New York City, beginning this Friday, March 21, through Sunday, March 23, each evening at 8pm at AFA. On Friday, March 21, there will be a special after-party sponsored by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence – the location will be announced at the screening.

AFA is also hosting two programs of selected films by James Broughton:

Saturday, March 22 at 5:30.
MOTHER’S DAY 1948, 22 min, 16mm
THE BED 1968, 19 min, 16mm
NUPTIAE 1969, 14 min, 16mm
THE GOLDEN POSITIONS 1970, 32 min, 16mm
THIS IS IT 1971, 10 min, 16mm
Total running time: ca. 100 min.

PROGRAM 2: Collaborations with Joel Singer 
Sunday, March 23 at 6:15
TOGETHER 1976, 3 min, 16mm, b&w
SONG OF THE GODBODY 1977, 11 min, 16mm
THE GARDENER OF EDEN 1981, 8.5 min, 16mm
DEVOTIONS 1983, 22 min, 16mm
SCATTERED REMAINS 1988, 14 min, 16mm
Total running time: ca. 65 min.

For more information about AFA -- tickets, directions, etc. -- simply click on the link.

Important Update! 
Summer Theatrical Tour: 
Chicago, May 16-22 at Facets Cinemateque  
Portland, May 24, 4:30pm at Hollywood Theatre 
Mendocino, May 31, 5:30pm at Crown Hall 
Los Angeles, June 10, 8pm at West Hollywood Library 
Los Angeles, June 12, 7:30pm American Cinematheque 
Spielberg Theatre 
New York, June 18, New York Public Library, time TBD 
Seattle, June 19, 7 pm at Gay City Calamus Auditorium 
Dallas, June 27, 9:20pm, Texas Theatre

BIG JOY will also be released on DVD/VOD 
via Kino Lorber's Alive Mind label on June 3rd.

No comments: