We are indebted to the extraordinary trove that is Ubuweb for today’s Allen Ginsberg Project posting – Mi-sen Wu – “A party hosted by Beat poet Allen Ginsberg inspired the director’s award-winning graduation film Van Gogh’s Ear, (1995) – (available here) – an experimental short featuring the maestro talking about his creations, death and immortality”
The film opens with a series of swift fleeting images (with one of Allen with his camera among them) and an early presentation of what will be a quirky and distinctive soundtrack.
Chapter One – “A Common Truth” ( taking its title from Allen’s poem – “Written in My Dream by W.C.Williams“ – (‘”As Is/you’re bearing / a common/Truth/ Commonly known/as desire/ No need/ to dress/ it up/as beauty/ No need/to distort/ what’s not/standard….”…”What began/as desire/ will end/wiser””)
Chapter Two – “The Beats” – Mi-sen Wu explores the onomatopoeia and the mystery of sound – “It’s the End for unbelievers it’s the Beginning for Believers”
Chapter Three – (beginning with a brief clip of Ray Bremser (“God is dead (John Lennon)/John Lennon is dead (God)” – “It always depresses me to see old silent movies , especially in crowd scenes…everybody is dead by now’) – ‘The immortal Chance” ( ****footage of Allen begins here (approximately nine-and-a-quarter minutes in) – on soundtrack he begins reading his poem “After Lalon” (“It’s true I got caught in/the world/When I was young Blake/tipped me off/Other teachers followed/Better prepare for Death..”……”Allen Ginsberg says I’m/ really up shits creek…”)
AG:. Sure, everyone’s afraid of death but being afraid of death is also not being afraid of death – if you’e not afraid of being afraid. There’s fear and then, you know, there’s the fear of fear. There’s panic and there’s the fear of panic, you know
‘where are we going?” – (Allen continues with “After Lalon” – (“”I sat at the feet of a/ Lover/ and he told me everything…”Maybe I’ve been dreaming all along”) – “Basically life is a dream” (Allen Ginsberg) –
AG: Innocence – it is real like a dream is real when it’s on, but on the other hand it ends. So when it ends, that’s the aspect of it that you can call “empty”. The realization during the dream that it’s only a dream makes you realize that it’s transitory, empty and like a dream. So also that’s the key to existence itself. There’s your non-dream life. because, after all, you die and it’s gone so you wake up from your… or..you don’t have to pay for to.. so..no permanent hell, no permanent pain, no permanent heaven (when you give up heaven, you give up hell, so you’re liberated from heaven and hell). On the other hand you have people who are really striving, want to get to heaven and they’ll insist on there being a hell so they can get to heaven. For other people there’s got to be a hell so they can get into heaven? – Terrible attitude! Very selfish!
Allen continues with “After Lalon” – (“It’s 2 A.M, and I got to/get up early..”…. “What a mess I am, Allen Ginsberg”)
AG: I don’t really understand reincarnation.. I don’t believe or disbelieve. So I’m afraid, I can’t.. I’m blank on that. I don’t remember having died. But on the other hand, whether or not you’re re-incarnated, you’ve still got to die in order to reincarnate. So you have to die when you differ anyway! So what people really believe what they’re supposed to believe, who knows? – But what do you mean by “believe”? ..Do I.. have I ever experienced it? I don’t remember. So how can I believe something I don’t experience unless its an idea. But I don’t believe in “ideas”. Ideas pass through my mind, but as far as clinging to them and believing them, I don’t think that’s worthwhile.
Well, religion certainly comes from the problem of fear of suffering and death., or there’s certainly a strong element in the rise of religion, or the rise of thinking of such matters and the resolution of it, I don’t think many religions resolve it. I think Buddhism does tend to resolve it better than most, in the sense of realizing that, once it is all of the nature of dream-stuff, there is no long-range element for someone to take, that there is a way out of the ignorance of claustrophobia and fear. And fear can grow.. The cause of ignorance is attachment, grasping, and by letting go of the grasping the whole anxiety dissolves, anxiety about being saved or not being saved.
“the musician is murdered by a bird/ Why?””
“After Lalon” continues – (“Sleepless I stay up &/ think about my Death…”…”asleep or awake, Allen/ Ginsberg’s in bed/ in the middle of the night, 4 a.m”)
“Lao Tzu, the philosopher, the butterflies nightmare..” “May 29. 1967”
AG: So naturally everybody’s a little afraid of death or doesn’t want to give up. But on the other hand there is this underlying assurance that it’s not a tragedy. If it were a tragedy, it wouldn’t be happening, or as Chogyam Trungpa said to William Burroughs’ son when he lay in a hospital bed waiting for a liver transplant, not sure if it ever would show up, “You will live or you will die. Both are good.” How could that not be? – Because everybody dies. “You will live or you will die. Both are good”. Both are.. both are part of… you know..both are real.. If life is good, you can’t have life without death. So if life is good, death is good (unless you want to say life and death is bad-bad-bad). And you can’t really say they’re good or bad, they’re just there.
“life is a dream/dream is poetry/ poetry is memory/memory is life”
“Then the came for me,/ I hid in the toilet stall….”… “Will it come true? Will/ it really come true?”
“I was five playing “Hide and Go Seek”/. She said “Stop searching for God!”
The “I’, or the ego, or the self, definitely exists like this table. But like the table it’s a collection of impermanent atoms that will dissolve and it’s not permanent.. it’s not.. it’s a transitory matter. So it’s of the nature of a dream-stuff So the traditional Buddhist attitude in the Tibetan tradition is to make friends with the self, make friends with the “I’, make friends with the ego, not try to destroy it but come into a friendly relation with it and make it your pet, and then you don’t have to worry about getting rid of your ego because that dissolves away. So there’s nothing you have to do about it except observe it.
“Immortal Chance?” – (“I had my chance and lost it…:”….”..’Allen Ginsberg warns you don’t follow my path to extinction”)
AG: Because of the very nature of śūnyatā or emptiness, there is no nirvana, there is no wisdom, there’s no heaven, there’s no hell. So there’s..In other words, things dissolve and transform and there’s a basic notion of emptiness, things being like a dream. So in a dream if everything is like a dream then how can you lose the immortal chance? – there’s nothing to lose.But on the other hand, if you don’t realize it’s a dream, then you lose the immortal chance.. of the nature of existence and the nature of consciousness. That’s what this is all about. So “I lost the immortal chance” – One lost it – It’s an ironic way of saying “I found it” or “I lost it, found it” or “It no longer matters”. In other words, its a fool’s game to think you’re going to win something, or lose something.
Film closes with credits and soundtrack of Allen from “Gospel Noble Truths” (“Die when you die”)