Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sharing Big Joy

Art is often a collaborative process, even writing, which is often considered more of a solitary act. My own literary solitude was given a friendly, communal pinch in the butt as I met and hung out with many artists who have inspired me along the way.

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to see the new biographical documentary about poet and filmmaker James Broughton. Big Joy, directed by Stephen Silha and Eric Slade, enjoyed a rousing welcome at its sold out premiere as part of Frameline's SF International LGBT Film festival. 

A sold out audience enjoyed a thorough exploration of Broughton's life and art. What's so fascinating is how his life and art coincided with several major cultural scenes, specifically in Bay Area. A member of the San Francisco Renaissance in the post-World War II era, Broughton's experimental poems were part of a group of artists who paved the way for the Beat poets and the North Beach artists who included Alan Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti (whose City Lights Bookstore is celebrating its 60th anniversary today). As Broughton entered into a male relationship, his freeing philosophies inspired the Radical Faerie movement.

Having seen a few of Broughton's films years ago, and read some of his poetry, it was amazing to see his works brought together in a full context, from the whimsical "Pleasure Garden" to the fully California-style "The Bed," an exploration of freeing nudity, couplings and outdoor frolics.

Certainly the darker sides of Broughton's life are included in the film, from his battles with depression to his problematic marriage and eventual much lighter 'soulmate' partnering with Joel Singer. But even Broughton's aging and eventual death (14 years ago) brought light and inspiration. "I can dance!," Broughton says in the film of his eventually bodily release. "I'll be able to dance again."

The film continues to make the rounds of film festivals worldwide, yet it probably won't find as welcome a home as here in San Francisco, and at the Castro Theatre, which author Armistead Maupin aptly called "the Castro's living room."

Maupin is one of several artists who contribute comments and read selections of Broughton's work in the film. While I knew a little about Broughton's artistic achievements, I was surprised by the connection he had to people in my life who have influenced my art, or whom I've had the pleasure to meet and befriend, including Keith Hennessy, Jim Cory and Anna Halprin.

But my closest connection to the film, and Broughton, is with poet Alex Gildzen. Decades ago, as a young theatre major at Kent State University, I visited the dauntingly austere Special Collections Department, on an upper floor of the KSU library. Initially setting out to pore over some private letters of playwright Sam Shepard, I ended up befriending Gildzen, and years of correspondence, poems and postcards have kept us in touch. 

Gildzen also archived the papers of Broughton during his time at the KSU Library. His visit to San Francisco gave us more time together, and allowed me to brush shoulders with other film participants and fans.

Gildzen noted from the stage that he remembered sitting in the Castro Theatre with Broughton and his partner Singer at a Frameline film screening 23 years prior. I realized that 21 years ago this week, I had just moved to San Francisco, and my first cultural event was a screening of the documentary film, Armistead Maupin Is a Man I Dreamt Up, also, of course, shown to a packed house at the Castro Theatre.

My actual anniversary was a few days prior, but with the "extra" full moon, the brisk sunny weather, and the day's celebrations, it was as if my own private joy had joined with all the Broughton festivities.

After the screening, an informal gathering at the popular Cafe Flore led to some conversations with the film's editor (who took the nice snapshot of Alex and me), and notable activist and curator Joey Cain, who will be creating an exhibit of items from the San Francisco Public Library's collection of Broughton materials later this fall.

from Faetopia 2012
That evening, many of the fans and participants gathered at the third annual Faetopia, which transforms the empty former Tower Records storefront into a beguiling exhibit and performance space of Radical Faerie-inspired art and community. 

Author Mark Thompson led the proceedings with a very touching experience of his initial and later meeting with Broughton. (Thompson was my first editor more than 20 years ago when I began freelance-writing for The Advocate. He basically trained me in a more professional style of journalism, giving me a reason to meet and interview Mark Morris, Paul Bartel, and Clive Barker.)

My Faerie connection is tangential at best, but seeing so many people gathered in one night to celebrate Broughton made me realize how many of these folk have inspired me to loosen up my artistic biases and, as Broughton often said so succinctly, "When in doubt, twirl."

And while the film is completed, the producers need more funds to get it released and distributed. The process of filmmaking may be the most collaborative artistic process ever. At the post-screening Q&A Slade mentioned that more than 600 people assisted in the film's completion. 

Even so, the project needs even more assistance to reach a deserved wider audience. And the directors cleverly recruited an audience volunteer to press a button on their Kickstarter campaign right onstage from one of their cell phones. (THIS is a link to the completed campaign; not sure where the new one is.)

To keep up on the developments with the film, like the producers' Facebook page, and share the joy, the Big Joy.

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