Philomene Long’s The Beats – An Exisitential Comedy

We continue our spotlighting of video now available via the digitalization of Allen’s Stanford University archives.

Today – Philomene Long & (Jay D Kugelman)’s LA-based documentary from 1980,  The Beats: An Existential Comedy

The video is available – here

[Stuart Z Perkoff appearing on Groucho Marx’s tv show, You Bet Your Life – from The Beats – An Existential Comedy]

Initially conceived as a tribute to the poet Stuart Z Perkoff (1930-1974), it developed into, significantly, more – much more.

As one reviewer had it, “The film is not so much a historical documentary of the period as a recreation of the Spirit of the times, through the verbal magic of its cast of characters – a style of Life and Art which liberated a part of these States from the paranoia and rigidity of the McCarthy Era. The beat of the film moves back and forth in time between 1958 and the present and what emerges is a cinematic poem celebrating eight Free Spirits who are linked by their dedication to their Art and an unflinching non-conformity tempered by laughter.”

Those eight are, alongside Perkoff, fellow LA poets, Aya (Tarlow) and Frank T Rios, San Francisco’s Jack Hirschman and Lawrence Ferlinghetti,  filmmaker Shirley Clarke (who passingly notes Beat conservatism – “Allen wanted to be Robert Frost“), Andy Warhol “superstar”, Viva (another woman’s perspective), and Allen himself.

Allen’s appearance comes approximately twenty-and-a-quarter minutes in

Interviewer: Allen, as co-director of the Jack Kerouac School of Practicing (Disembodied) Poetics...

AG: Yes

Interviewer: …could you tell us what you have to say about Jack Kerouac‘s affect on America, on America, on art in America..?

AG: Total tender open heart was his preachment was his practice, was his art, was his beauty, that he realized mortal suffering,  noble truth of life that being born you suffer, like a little kitty cat that ‘s going to be tossed in the garbage some day. So, realizing that suffering, he opened up his heart, his heart caved in, and he gave prayer to America in the form of novels

Interviewer;  What would you say the affect of Buddhism has been on your own practice as a poet?

AG: Slowed me down, made me a little quieter, made me listen a little bit more, made me talk more from the heart area, woke me up a little bit to my own anger so that I don’t get entangled in it all the time, or, if I get angry, I enjoy it and then let it go. That’s been one thing, and then also more clarity about how my mind speeds and races and all the thought-forms that rise, so that I see the holes in-between my thoughts, and then, so, a hole around thought form with a hole at the beginning, and a hole at the end, or gap, just like in the film, which has, you know, got a frame in-between, each thought-form like a frame is like a little  haiku-poem, so I begin to recognize my mind as a big poem (which is also (Jack) Kerouac’s teaching that the mind was a big poem and all you had to do is.. –  if the mind was shapely, the art would be shapely.

At approximately twenty-three-and-three-quarter minutes in, he can be seen performing “Love Forgiven” ( “Straight and slender/Youthful tender/Love shows the way…”….”Righteous honestHeart’s forgiveness/Drives woes away/Gives Love to cold clay”) –  Thank you for your attendance

and, following the concert,  he’s further interviewed:

Interviewer: Do you have nostalgia for the “Fifties and “Sixties, Allen?

AG: Not at all, it;s more interesting now.  It’s all the same, the ‘Fifties, ‘Sixties, ‘Seventies, ‘Eighties – same thing as now.   It’s eternity all the time, so there’s no point having nostalgia for eternity (except I do have nostalgia for the present all the time! – as I had then – which is the sudden realization of the dearness of the moment, of the fact that I’m a talking ghost, and so what is being recorded now will be echoing a century later, (if there’s any electricity), and so I have this nostalgia of “Oh, here’s the very moment when I actually.. [Allen breaths out],  I can actually say it.

Interviewer: Say what?

AG: What? – Say “Ah!”,  Say What – “Ah” [breaths out again] for the present

Interviewer: (Can you recite something?)

AG: “Voices after the poetry reading gabbling down the hall/The poet sits on the stage in the empty room and keeps on talking” – What else?

Interviewer: That’s lovely

AG: Bye-bye

The film begins with Stuart Z Perkoff being quizzed about “Beatniks” by Groucho Marx and concludes with him reading his poem “Peace Poem”.  Among the many other highlights -Lawrence Ferlighetti (accompanied by dog) is seen reading his poem “Dog” (and, later, “Lords Prayer“),

Jack Hirschman reads “Which Moves in Stillness” and “We Are the Little Laughter”

Frank T Rios at the famous Beat hang-out, The Gas House

[Stuart Z Perkoff]

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