Allan and Allen’s Complaint

Another video from the Stanford Archives this weekend – Nam June Paik and Shigeko Kuboto’s 1982 experimental video  “Allan ‘n’ Allen’s Complaint” (the twin subjects are Allan Kaprow and Allen Ginsberg), both sons of patriarchal fathers. The film explores that complex relationship.

“People are always talking about Jewish mother and nobody talks about Jewish father.”

AG: (So perhaps the father) is more withdrawn,  more vulnerable, less pushy in his emotions and relationship

AK: And there’s another side to it, (and) that is, the father tends to be the one who openly suffers, or is consecrated to some kind of suffering for the burdens of maintaining the family, who has, not simply to go out and earn a living, but also has to complain about it, and, in a sense, the complaint is, “I am sent out to support the family, while this…

AG:  ..while the daughter learns piano, and the mother makes cocoa, and everybody’s having a good time in the kitchen.

AK: And the mother is also able to be free and dominating the family. So there’s an exile sense to the earning of a living to support a family

The film can be accessed – here

Here are a few stills  (some of the Allen Ginsberg moments)

“Three Years After The Death, Allen Ginsberg Confronts His Father Via Video Tape” – There’s extraordinary footage here of Allen

Allen Ginsberg-Louis Ginsberg superimposition

Allen Ginsberg and Louis Ginsberg

The punning Louis Ginsberg – “I read the papers, I draw my own confusions, then when things pile up but don’t add up, do you know what I do? – I take milk of amnesia!”

AG: I used to associate my father’s eye with a horse’s eye, (a horse who’s brain turned open, who fell down and couldn’t carry the laundry-cart anymore and there’s one big glistening wet sad eye of a trapped horse, like a big tearful eye)

Allen and Allan – Allen Ginsberg and Allan Kaprow

Interviewer: When did you first comment on your homosexuality to your father – When did he discover,  and how was it?

AG: Well I have a little poem about it..

Interviewer: Yeah, yeah, but you can….

AG: Actually, I came home from Columbia one day, and what I was.. what I wanted to do was to go to a psychiatrist to get “cured”, or to explore the situation, So I was about… (1948, so I was 21?.. 22?)… and he was sitting on the couch in a little apartment we had in Paterson, New Jersey, in the living room, and I sat on the other side of the room in an easy chair. And I said, “Well, er..’.  .(I think I phoned before and said I was coming for the weekend and wanted to have a talk with him) – So what I wanted… well what I said was, “Well, I would like to see a psychiatrist” – that I was trying to get him to help me go to the psychiatrist, and he was a little shocked that I wanted to see a psychiatrist, because my mother had been in hospitals and “psychiatrist” meant nervous breakdown, go to the hospital, get shock treatment, or.. so my “wanting to see a psychiatrist”, he got really scared, and he said, “Why? What’s the matter? Is there any…. Don’t I love you enough? [Allen laughs. at the memory]. .I forgot to take care of you? … didn’t I take care of you?” –  And I said, “Well, I have special, particular problems that I want to.. “, (See, I was trying to be very reasonable about it) – “It’ problem of sexual difficulties.. homosexuality. I’d like to see a psychiatrist about that “, So he looked at me and said, “You mean you like to take men’s penises in your mouth? – (So..)  “No, no”, I lied.

Peter Orlovsky

Louis Ginsberg: (They asked) “Allen, have you smoked marijuana?”, he said “Yes”, and then they said,” What did your father say? – “Well, there he is ask him”.  So. I got up at the podium and I said – one: that we don’t know yet just what are the effects of marijuana, good and bad – two – if Allen is a leader and an example for the younger element then it sends a poor example if you smoke it, and third, it’s against the law (I don’t want my son to be embroiled with the law, so that I advise him not to smoke marijuana). Then, all over the country, the UPI reported “Father Rebukes Allen Ginsberg Guru For Smoking”!

AG: This was several years after my father had taken his first toke.

(So a recognition ) that the times are, in a sense, an empty shell.. as we grow older we see the times vanish, we see the manners vanish, we see the preoccupations that we had, and obsessions, vanish, the riches vanish, as it says in Eclessiastes, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” . Time here is illusion. As you all know, as your kidneys give out, as your feet give out, as your teeth fall out, (as) your bones begin to show, as your mother dies, your grandmother dies, as your children die, as your life passes, as business goes away, as the jewellery business disappears, the wars begin and end, you finally realize that Time itself is a big lie.

LG: That may be, Allen..that may be in the long run, but.. here we are. What are we going to do with our lives? We have to make the most of it..

Interviewer (seemingly reproachingly, to Allen): You never had a woman?

AG: Oh yeah I had lots of women, certainly. Yeah. there’s Allan over here…[laughs] –  I had quite a few women at one time or another, but, there was a time when I was in the mental hospital in 1948, when I was cherried, let us say in American, I had never slept with a girl, when I was 22. At 23, there was an older woman whom I ran into in Provincetown and I had an affair with her for several months. And at the same time, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, the folksinger – you know him? – he stole her away from me.   My heart was broken.

(And) I met a model who was being kept by an elderly man and she was going to the New School for Social Research, and, like…  well, a whole succession of different women at different times, But during the late sixties, early sixties, I spent time with Barbara Rubin.

(And did you make love?)

AG: Yeah – many times- yes. I think the first time I met her we screwed on the floor  of the Filmmakers Coop.

Nam June Paik’s work has been celebrated on the Allen Ginsberg Project before – here and here

The video can be seen here on the Stanford site (give it time to load – beginning after about half a minute in)

One comment

  1. I have this on VHS tape. I think I recorded it from Night Flight TV show in the early 1980s. It features two artists and is highly experimental. I’ve never seen it available anywhere– it’s one of my rarest Allen artifacts.

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