Quotidian domesticity – Life on East 12th Street in the ’80’s – Steven Taylor and Allen’s Household Affairs remains one of our most cherished documents, not the least for the starring role played by the ever-canny Julius Orlovsky, on furlough from the mental hospital and staying temporarily in the apartment (the sparring between him and Allen (and him and his brother, Peter, for that matter) is one of the key features in the film). In 1987 Sony Corp had the innovative notion of giving away a bunch of High 8 camcorders to selected artists and writers with the caveat/request that, in return for the gift, they make a movie. Household Affairs (as much Steven’s, as Allen’s movie, and with much failed footage edited out – lens cap, fuzzy focus on the ceiling, etc, etc), is one of the results. Documenting the fertile, busy, comings-and-goings (within which Julius stands, like a rock), punctuated by external shots (out the window) and panning around the kitchen, and the arch placement (for contextualizing) of that day’s New York Times, the film features “cameos” from Harry Smith, Robert Frank, June Leaf, Jello Biafra, Carl Solomon, Gordon Ball, the Russian poet Viktor Sosnora, and a number of others.
Household Affairs (ASV #15)
It was filmed over a two-month period (October-November, 1987) and was edited the following year (in May of 1988). It opens (and indeed closes) with Allen writing the credits in chalk in his distinctive hand. Julius is observed right at the beginning.
AG: Will you look at me for a moment?
AG: Ok – So I guess you can get a plate and a fork and you can take your ham out.
AG: What you ought to do is, if you handle the food that others eat, you should wash your hands first
JO: What, it’s been handled already?
AG: No, but if you do it, you should wash your hands first
JO: I’ll wash my hands
AG: I get.. I mean I know..whatever
JO: Can I wash it here? we’re good?
JO: I’ve got some soap right here
AG: Yeah.. Now can you smile?
JO: Yes, smiling. I will. Do you want me to share half of this with you, Allen?
AG: So, well, there was the question of.. Peter got.. You’re ok to stay here for a month. And then? Do you get SSI? Does that mean they send you money to live?
JO: I just get Medicaid, that’s all
AG: Ah Medicaid. Does that mean money to live?
JO: Well, I don’t know about that
AG: Does that mean money to live anywhere?
JO: I guess so
AG: Well, if there was money to live anywhere, you might be able to get a room somewhere. Would you be interested in getting some little job, like messenger?
JO: Not really
AG: I didn’t hear you
AG: You had it this morning
JO: Well, you gave it to me yesterday. I remember that. Glad you reminded me.
AG: Do you remember taking it before?
JO: Yeah – I absolutely do, Allen
AG: What kind of effect does it have on you, do you know?
JO: I couldn’t tell you that
AG: What’s it called?
JO: Mellaril – maybe – if I’m not mistaken – or just ordinary medicine
AG: What was the last place you stayed at like?
AG: The last place you stayed at, what was it like?
JO: Well, it was just like here in a way
AG: That was Mrs Root
AG: She friendly?
JO: Friendly enough
AG: Were there any other out-patients there?
JO: Oh yeah
AG: How many?
JO: Oh, quite a few, Allen
AG: How come they keep shifting you around?
JO: Well, I asked for a transfer. When I was living in Kirkwood, I asked if they could move me some place else
AG: I see
JO: See, that’s why they did that
AG: Just to get a little variety, or ’cause you didn’t like it in Kirkwood?
JO: Well it wasn’t that I didn’t like it in Kirkwood. I thought I’d stayed there for a long enough time
AG: I see
AG: What did you say?
JO: I said you’ve been here for what? 12 years?
AG: Yeah, since 1975, and now it’s 1987
JO: 22 years. No wait, say that again Allen
AG: I’ve been here from 1975 to 1987 and it’s now November..10th
JO: November the 10th. It says so on the paper there – the New York Times paper
AG: What’s the big headline there?
JO: They’re all the same in a way, Allen
AG: Read one of them, the top one on the right
JO: Oh this one right here, it says: WHITE HOUSE SAYS POWERFUL NOMINEE IS JUDGE KENNEDY
AG: I see. What’s this one in the middle
JO: It says: CENTRAL BANKERS CALL FOR REDUCING TRADING IMBALANCE
AG: And what’s the caption on the big picture
JO: It says: REAGAN SAYS NEW STEPS MAY LEAD TO TALKS WITH NICARAGUA
(Julius takes the camera)
JO: It’s working?
AG: Yeah, no, keep it on, the container’s going. It’s like a moving picture. What do you notice about me?
JO: Well, you’re sitting there, resting..
AG: Can you see my hands?
JO:..meditating, thinking about something…
JO:..planning something. I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you what’s going on in your mind, Allen. I’m not a mind-reader.
AG: Is there anything else in the room of interest?
AG: Ok, so then press the red button again.
(The first section concludes with a taciturn, submissive Peter Orlovsky (having just dropped by), clearly not wishing to be on film, vowing he’ll take care of his brother.)
The second section begins with typical footage, looking out the kitchen window, before…
JO: I’ve got the Coke, Allen, shall I put it in the refrigerator, You want me to put your camera in there too?
JO: Why not?
AG: I’ll put it out the window!
JO: Oh really..where can it go?..I can’t fit it in, Allen
AG: Oh, the Coke (bottle)
JO: Shall I lay it..
AG: Yes, lay it sideways
JO: You didn’t want a piece of this? You can always close the top after we get through with it if we use it at all
Judy Leaf: Do you know what “empowerment” means?
JL: I don’t. Allen used that word. I didn’t really know
AG: Well, it’s a buzz word
JL: I didn’t really know myself what it meant..I mean, the way he used it.
JO: Something that stimulates you.. to further..
JL: Exactly, exactly, but that’s fantastic, because that’s exactly right, isn’t it?
JL: But that’s amazing
JO: ..makes more clear…
JL: You’re tricking me, you’re very smart
JO: ..makes things more clear
JL: That’s incredibly true. You’re very good on explaining
JO: Hopefully. It would be a disappointment if it didn’t do that, right?
Robert Frank: Allen, the Church [Mary Help of Christians] is out [AG moves to the window and briefly glimpses the congregation on the steps]
JL: I don’t see many words..what’s “paradigm”?
AG: [corrects the pronunciation] – paradigm
JO: He’s really making use of that camera!
Vicky Stanbury: Allen, where do you hide your strainer?
JO: I thought it was in there, you know, Vicky, I thought it was in that drawer there, you know
AG: Ah, see it says “record”
Jello Biafra: There you are
AG: This is Allen Ginsberg (the author of this movie)
JB: Do an American Express ad for us, do an American Express ad
AG: I don’t have my card with me, but I certainly have my credentials in my brain
(IRAN-CONTRA REPORT SAYS PRESIDENT BEARS “ULTIMATE RESPONSIBILITY” FOR WRONGDOING (newspaper headline) – slow pan external and internal)
AG: Where are you going? Come on in
JO: Well, I’m just looking out the window, that’s all
AG: Which window?
JO: The window in the living-room..or bedroom, whatever it is. (starts cooking, begins mimicking photography) I can do the same thing that you’re doing, Allen
AG; Oh is that what you’re doing
AG: I thought you were cooking a hamburger
JO: Exactly, I’m doing that too, at the same time, two things at the same time, taking pictures and cooking hamburgers. What do you think I was doing? Beating my meat?
AG: (laughing) No. I thought you were making muscles in your arm
JO: What would I do that for?
AG: To show what a strong guy you are
JO: I ain’t so strong
AG: Harry [Smith] will be here soon
JO: All I know is that everybody’s got a certain amount of strength, that’s all I know…did you say Harry’s gonna be here?
AG: In about twenty minutes
JO: Twenty minutes. Where is he coming from? the Bowery?
(shortly after 4 minutes in, the hunch-backed Harry Smith is glimpsed. He sees it, and beckons the camera in – close-up of Harry – Julius (off-camera)
JO: Hey Allen, I weighed myself on a scale. Guess how much I weighed?
AG: How much?
AG: That’s a lot less than me
Harry Smith: I weigh exactly what Vicky does – 97
JO: How much do you weigh, Harry?
HS: 97 lbs
JO: That’s all?
HS: I weighed 118..
JO: Hey, Allen, is he less than you
AG: A good deal less
HS: Do you want to hear a beautiful record?
(Harry proceeds to show Allen the cut he was listening to)
HS: It’s this thing, the Canterbury Choral Society, and it’s the first time I’ve recorded in an actual large auditorium where I had to set the machine down, and it over-loaded, destroyed the tape. I was going to use it for something else. It begins.. You’ve heard of Ralph Vaughan Williams?
HS: It was written in 1936, and begins “beat beat drums, blow, trumpets, blow..”
AG: Oh, Whitman?
HS: “through the windows, through the doors, burst like a…” Now, unfortunately, I only began to record part way through “word over all beautiful as the sky, etcetera”. I have the “Dirge for Two Veterans” complete
AG: You have it on tape?
HS:..(indecipherable)..who Vicky was talking to on the phone (and, boy, are there wealthy widows there, I’ve never seen such (indecipherable)..and ate at the reception after the thing. It was just outstanding. The…
Segment 3 continues with Harry (Julius wanders in circa three-and-a-quarter minutes with the observation – “147, with my coat on!”), the briefest of glimpses of Bob Rosenthal (Allen’s secretary) – and then Vivienne Bittencourt and Vincent Katz – and Gordon Ball
AG: Did you get anything to eat today?
JO: Not too much. But I got enough. Tuna-fish sandwich, let’s say
AG: And there’s some more
JO: I’m not hungry anymore, tho’
AG: There’s a…
JO: I can’t eat because I’m not hungry, Allen
JO: Allen Ginsberg?
JO: I’m not hungry, I said
AG: You may get hungry later, and there’s some brussel sprouts..
JO: No, no, I won’t get hungry. I can’t change my mind that easy
AG: Well your stomach might change?
JO: No it won’t..
AG: Well there’s brussel sprouts
JO: Not when I know it won’t
AG (to VK): Could you show him the brussel sprouts – show me and show him.
JO: How can I know someone’s mouth wasn’t on them?
Vincent Katz:.. Delicately prepared..
AG: Show him
Vivien Bittencourt: Smells good
Gordon Ball: Allen’s a great cook
VK: What recipe did you use to prepare these spuds?
AG: Garlic and olive oil and ginger
(Peter Orlovsky, Larry Fagin, Steven Taylor, and others, are seen getting ready, preparing to have dinner. Gordon Ball is glimpsed taking pictures (and with Peter, five-and-a-half minutes in, berating Julius about having sex!)
PO: You don’t remember? So you never got laid
GB: You and I got laid together, remember? (when) we went into town, We went to see my friends Bob and Diane Patterson (from the Farm) and we went to their place
JO: Who did I lay?
JO: Really? That was years ago, tho’
GB: That’s right
JO: That was so many years I thought those years were forgotten, but now you bring them back to attention, maybe we can remember after all, if we try hard enough – too much trouble, tho”!
PO: What was it like?
JO: Oh, just an experience, that’s all, sexual experience
(next comes the sequence of Peter goading his brother to do push-ups on the bar he’d had installed in the apartment – Allen: “don’t give him a hernia!” – Julius: “Hard work eh? – once you get into that you never get out of it, that’s a form of slavery, isn’t it, Allen?”)
The final part continues with more footage of Allen’s 12th street kitchen
JO: Don’t strain the camera on me, Al
AG: Because it’s Thanksgiving
JO: Oh that’s a good alibi and excuse, ain’t it?. One is as good as another, that is to say.
(more window and New York Times newspaper shots – ACCORD ON MISSILE TREATY BY US AND SOVIET)
GB: See you later
AG: Happy Thanksgiving
GB: And the same to you, sir
AG: How are you going to spend your Thanksgiving, Julius?
JO: Oh, taking it easy
AG: You going out to see your mother?
JO: Yep. I presume so. I guess so. If I’m still alive to do so
AG: Well, it’s only an hour
JO: Well I know, but you never can tell what happens meanwhile. You might be driving along the road and crash – and boom! – that takes care of the visit!
AG: And now it’s..what day is it? Monday?
AG: December, no November 30, 1987
AG: And it was raining last night
AG: And there are still raindrops…
AG: You don’t want to go off and hear Marianne Faithfull at the Bottom Line?
AG: okay, well you might as well sleep then
(more cameos – Allen’s Polish host (and, coming soon, the Russian poet Viktor Sosnora, and his Russian accomplice and translator)
JO: Greasy smile.. if you relax.. Focus your camera, so everyone can see it, witness it, observe it, watch it, look at it.. (begins singing) “When you’re smiling, when you’re smiling, the whole wide world smiles with you/ When you’re laughing, keep right on laughing ’cause the sun goes on shining through/ but when you’re crying, you bring on the rain/ so stop your crying, just be happy again/ ’cause when you’re smiling, why, the whole world smiles with you – with you!” – That’s all folks, that’s all, alright, that’s about it, that hits it on the spot, bulls-eye
AG: What is today? Do you know?
JO: (reading from the paper) Today is Wednesday, the 2nd of December
AG: What year?
JO: 1987 – going on 1988
AG: So what does it all amount to?
JO: Nothing much
(Five minutes in and the first glimpse of Viktor Sosnora. There’s also a glimpse of the legendary Carl Solomon (but you mustn’t blink, otherwise you’ll miss him – 5′ 53″ “secret cabalistic gesture”!)
AG: Julius, where are you?
JO: I’m right here
AG: And what are you doing?
JO: Laying down, resting
JO: Because I don’t feel like standing on my feet all day
AG: Well, ok, I’ll say goodbye then