Beat films

Beat Films: Overviews of the Best

by Adrien Begrand

Okay, here are my picks for the definitive Beat video experience:

Pull My Daisy: Need I say more? If you only see a couple minutes of it, it has to be Kerouac’s ‘cockroach’ riff!

What Happened To Kerouac?: The best Kerouac doc, bar none. At ninety minutes, it’s longer than the inferior “Kerouac” film, and doesn’t have those bad re-creations. The interviews were all done at the 1982 On The Road celebration at the Naropa Institute. Best moment: Burroughs saying it took him years to shake that trust fund Kerouac thrusted upon him in his fiction, debunking the myth of Kerouac’s quoteunquote “great memory.” Truth is, Kerouac tended to exaggerate at times.

Kerouac On Firing Line: Sixty tragic and often funny minutes of Jack pouting, sipping booze, and sporadicaly waking up to say something absolutely hilarious to the great Ed Sanders, a dimwitted sociologist, and the king of all assholes, Buckley himself. Best moment: Kerouac’s famous verbal attack on Sanders, and his comment on how the Vietnam War was a ploy by the North and South Vietnamese (“cos they’re both cousins”) to get more jeeps.

Kerouac on Steve Allen: Jack’s shy during the interview, very shy…but when the music kicks in, he’s in his element, and delivers his greatest reading of all. Pure magic.

Kerouac’s Road: A Franco-American Odyssey: A Canadian NFB film examining the influence of Kerouac’s Quebec roots. Has annoying docudrama stuff, but it’s kept to a minimum. Best moment: the ultra-rare interview at CBC Montreal. This is the only film that examines Kerouac’s French Canadian roots, and it does so very effectively.

The Life And Times Of Allen Ginsberg: The best of all the Beat docs. Totally wonderful portrait of Allen. Best moment: Allen’s recitation of “Song” at the very beginning.

Poet on the Lower East Side: A Docudiary of Allen Ginsberg: Ninety minutes of footage videotaped by a friend of Ginsberg’s Hungarian translator over three days in 1996. Shows the side of Ginzy some people didn’t like: the business side. At his age, Allen never stopped for very long, always doing something. Best moment: Allen & Peter’s visit to Allen’s stepmother’s, Allen’s visit with the squatters.

Burroughs: The Movie: The definitive Burroughs film…This one’s a doozy. Has Bill touring his old St. Louis neighbourhood, reading at the Nova Convention, getting silly with Ginsberg (rehashing their routines they used to do during the Columbia days, quite precious), showing off his weapons…along with that is extremely rare footage of his son Bill Jr. right before he died, Lucien Carr (very rare again), Brion Gysin, and his famous appearance on Saturday Night Live, in its entirety. It covers his entire life right up to his moving to Lawrence in 1979…this one is worth having.

Commissioner of Sewers: A sixty-minute Burroughs doc, featuring interviews and readings. Best moment: Bill’s “Advice For Young People.” Covers Burroughs’ life in the 80’s, right up to The Western Lands.

Towers Open Fire: Buroughs & Gysin’s failed film cut-up experiment. Though very annoying to watch at times, it has its moments. Best moment: The “Towers” short at the beginning.

The Coney Island of Lawrence Ferlinghetti: Wonderful, amusing profile of the ebullient Ferlinghetti done by photographer Chris Felver. Like Ginzy, he’s always doing something. Best moment: His showing how he uses the meditation pillow Ginsberg gave him for taking naps down in Bixby Canyon. A playful jab at Allen.

Renaldo and Clara: Four hours of monotony, bad acting, cool concert footage, monotony…all this for the film’s three best offstage moments, all involving Ginsberg: his singing Blake poems and reading Kaddish in front of the old people, the famous visit with Dylan to Kerouac’s grave, and the cute q&a between Dylan, Ginsberg, and the kids in the playground.

Tons of stuff to watch, but it’s required viewing for all Beat Freaks!


Also see Henry Ferrini’s films Lowell Blues and Polis is This: Charles Olson and the Persistence of Place.

One thought on “Beat films

  1. I have seen three of those in your list. I chose the scene from Kerouac’s film that has to be with weed. When Kerouac(the caracter) is inside of a bathroom going crazy at the time he is smoking pot laughing madly. The off-voice reads the letter starting like this “…. My lousy life…” or sort of. It is amazing and it invites you to do something wild like going onto the road to get drunk alone seeing the stars at midnight.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *