This week has been filled with a lot of bad news – bombings, deaths and freak fertilizer plant explosions. So I was keen for something to lift my spirits. Thankfully, a documentary about James Broughton, who saw himself as the spokesman for ‘Big Joy’, premiered in town tonight – and I was at the front of the queue.
I’ve been looking forward to this documentary about the West Coast poet and filmmaker – behind shorts such as The Pleasure Garden (1953) and The Bed (1968) – for months now. In September, I went to an evening of snippets of upcoming independent films, and Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton stood out most. I’d been following the progress of the team, and clicked my heels with excitement when I heard it was coming to the Tribeca Film Festival – an event I’ve never been to before.
The film more than lived up to my expectations. I can imagine it probably served as a great introduction to people who’d never heard of Broughton, and as a fantastic summary of his work and life for literary geeks who have been long-time fans.
It was interesting to see how, for someone so upbeat, he was wracked with real moments of darkness – poor parenting, being closeted, failed marriages and having children, which he called his ‘worst mistake’. This tinged the film with a sadness, and made his pure joy for life even more uplifting.
Documentaries are my favourite film genre, and I’ve seen a lot that do the ‘life story’ pretty badly because they simply get bogged down by the details. No matter how great all these details might be, you just cannot include every single one in a 90 minute film. And Big Joy was so neat with its editing. Have a peek:
I did wonder if they stayed a little close to the subject; there was more focus on Broughton’s work than where it fell within his field, how visionary his method was or how it compared with other art at the time. For this, I wondered if it was a little indulgent.
At first I also felt there wasn’t enough snippets of Broughton’s art, but once we got into the film, this was more than satisfied. And his poetry readings – many of which were actually his narration – were merged with really smart animation.
And then of course there were the absurd films. Nudity, dancing, crossdressing, fondling. These, along with snippets of Broughton’s poetry, actually made me laugh out loud. He is such an inspiring character and made me realise that the small things that have caused me worry today are just so pointless – because I should be out there having fun instead.
Just what I needed after such a grim week! Now I want to buy some of his poetry, so that I always have that laughter on hand.