So, next up, the wonderful 1965 City Lights Bookstore footage (often trumpeted on the internet due to the appearance of Neal Cassady in it, as “rare” – it is in its own way, it’s true, but if it appears on the internet, doesn’t that make such designation something of an oxymoron?) [2012 update – It now returns to a stricter definition of “rare” – not available on the internet, only available on the DVD of The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg – Jerry Aronson’s definitive film biography, (a brief excerpt of it may be glimpsed on his web-site here)]
“This, frankly, essential item”.
As the note on his web-site explains (regarding the expanded DVD)
“Academy Award nominated Director Jerry Aronson spent twenty-five years accumulating more than one-hundred-and-twenty hours of film on Allen Ginsberg, resulting in this comprehensive portrait of one of America’s greatest poets. This deluxe two-DVD set contains the Director’s cut of the award-winning documentary updated and remastered. This DVD set includes never-before-seen material and historical interviews with friends, family and contemporaries and the latest generation of artists influenced by Ginsberg. This eight-hour [sic] compilation illuminates the last sixty years of American culture and the uncertainties and possibilities of current times.”
Regarding, specifically, the City Lights footage, Jerry provides a little of the background:
“The first item that I came across at the American Poetry Archives at San Francisco State was called “USA Poetry – Out-takes”. It was shot for WNET in 1965 [by filmmaker Richard O Moore, out-takes from the Ginsberg episode of his (Moore’s) pioneering poetry series].. (It) was a poor-quality video-transfer but was 25 minutes long and contained all of the material, just not in good shape. I began hunting for the original black-and-white film and (for) better-quality transfers.
I called the Archives in the early ’90s and they did not have anything else that could help me. Lucklly, other filmmakers (around that time) were making documentaries on Kerouac, Burroughs and the Beats in general. Richard Lerner who made What Happened To Kerouac? and John Antonelli who made Kerouac had portions of this sequence in much better video-transfers and they were kind enough to let me borrow them
When I assembled everything I was still several minutes short and (then) sometime in the late ’90s, while looking through (the) WNET archives, (I) found the missing footage, in decent shape. One of my students and editing assistants, Trevor Hubbard, put everything together and this uncut footage was then ready for the DVD.”
WNET’s original Allen Ginsberg program was filmed, according to Bill Morgan’s invaluable “The Works of Allen Ginsberg 1941-1994: A Descriptive Bibliography” , on two separate occasions – the first (the footage at City Lights) on July (July 18), further filming took place in December of 1965 in Allen’s apartment and in the studio of Robert Lavigne. The program aired in March of 1966. The “out-takes” footage (similar “out-takes” are available from all twelve programs) were formally worked on ten years later. Ross Lipman’s masterful restoration work for the UCLA Film and Television Archive, transferring the original 16mm film to a 35mm print should also be noted.
More on Jerry Aronson.. well, you’re just going to have to wait until tomorrow when we feature his memoir on first meeting Allen.
To the footage itself, broken, in this instance, courtesy of You Tube, into a number of segments
[The following, of course, refers, (now) to a segmentation that is no longer available]
– Part one (not from the Aronson DVD but included in it) Allen reading “Who Be Kind To” (composed, shortly after the London reading at the Albert Hall, June 10 1965, so read a little more than a month after its composition – for poet Harry Fainlight). The next part, Allen chanting, and speaking about, mantra – and, later, about Eastern European politics (three minutes in, Cassady arrives and Allen quizzes him about his (Cassady’s) recent marijuana bust). In the next part, Allen speaks of his own recent deportation from Czechoslovakia and reads, in its entirety (sic(, the likewise just-recently-composed “Kral Majales” (he also points to the “Who Be Kind To” reading, tho’ this doesn’t take place in this segment). A fourth section features Allen displaying the sign that he carried “two years ago, when I was last in town” (1963), demonstrating “in front of the Palace Hotel to picket Madame Nhu” (the First Lady of South Vietnam). He shows, and explains, the three-fishes-with-one-head symbol (“meaning three bodies with one consciousness”), (“Buddha’s Footprint”) which he would go on to use as his own personal symbol – and the writing on the placard, which reads as follows:
“War Is Black Magic – Belly Flowers To North And South Vietnam – Include Everybody -End The Human War – Name Hypnosis – Fear Is The Enemy – Satan Go Home – I Accept America And Red China To The Human Race – Madame Nhu And Mao Tse Tung Are In The Same Boat Of Meat”
and on the other side:
“Man Is Naked Without Secrets – Armed Men Lack This Joy – How Many Million Persons Without Names? – What Do We Know Of Their Suffering? – Oh How Wounded Says The Guru – Thine Own Heart Says The Swami – Within You Says The Christ – Till His Humanity Awake Says Blake – I Am Here Saying Seek Mutual Surrender Tears – That There Be No More Hell In Vietnam – That I Not Be In Hell Here In The Street [Allen adapts it for this occasion “In This Basement”]”
Allen also speaks eloquently against the Vietnam War. He also stands bemused and apart from Cassady’s more pessimistic (apocalyptic) view. The two can be seen in the footage articulating their sharply different visions.
and one more from this City Lights occasion – Allen sings the praises of his Russian comrad, Andrei Voznesensky