Gail Collins op-ed piece in last Wednesday’s New York Times – “When Allen Ginsberg Came To Town” vis a vis homophobia and campus censorship is a must-read.
“As the product of a Catholic girls’ school in the 1960”, Collins writes, “I truly grew up with no idea. I was in college and found myself organizing a gay rights protest before I fully understood what gay rights meant”
She goes on:
“Let me tell you that story, which started at one of those student-leaders-gather events, this one at the University of Illinois. A couple of us were there from Marquette, a Jesuit university in Milwaukee, and we happened to meet the poet Allen Ginsberg. At the time, Ginsberg was famous as one of the founders of the Beat movement and the author of “Howl”… Being near-illiterate when it came to poetry, I didn’t totally appreciate the opportunity. .Nevertheless, it was easy to see he was a friendly guy — ready to chat with utterly insignificant college students like me. By the end of our get-together, we’d invited him to come and read at Marquette, and he’d agreed.
The whole thing was set up when suddenly the dean of students, Father Richard Sherburne, got some background information on Ginsberg that he apparently didn’t like and announced that the reading had to be canceled. The reasons were a little unclear. To be fair, Ginsberg had a history of drug use and of taking off his clothes in public, at least once. But the fact that he was gay did seem to be the real problem. “As I remember things, homosexuality was the reason the administration gave for canceling Ginsberg’s appearance,” said Con Lehane, a leader of the student rebellion we organized on behalf of free speech…
We held a sit-in at Father Sherburne’s office to protest the cancellation, to no avail. Eventually, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee agreed to host the poetry reading and a bunch of us demonstrated, marching across town to the event. “We will all go upon the same cross ultimately — there is no need for anger,” I remember Ginsberg telling the crowd. Still didn’t have much of a grasp of poetry, but I knew a good comeback when I heard one.
And I’ve got to tell you, it was a turning point in my life. Always saw myself as a moderate-works-within-the-system person before. Thinking back, I wonder how much longer it would have taken me to figure out I was against the war in Vietnam if I hadn’t been a veteran of the Ginsberg censorship fight.
“My alma mater has changed a lot since then, too.”, she observes, “A while ago I was invited to give a talk at Marquette — I think it was on the books I’d written about women’s history….As I was getting ready to leave, an elderly Jesuit came up to me and introduced himself as … Father Sherburne. “I’ve been retired for a long time,” he said, “but I came tonight to find you and tell you … that you were right and I was wrong.” One of the great moments of my life….”
Yes, homophobia and censorship of freedom of speech are wrong. Candor and honest acceptance are right. That we’re still having to argue this? How long has it been since Collins’ Marquette incident? America’s recently-enacted Gay Marriage Bill (this past week) is obviously a step in the right direction but clearly (all too clearly – and we’re talking globally here, not just America) the twin specters of hatred and intolerance remain.
More Beats-on-Film news – William Burroughs‘ early short novel, Queer ((written between 1951 and 1953, but not published until 1985), after a few false starts, looks, finally, to be making it via movie-adaptation. Back in 2011 (as noted here), Steve Buscemi seemed all set to be directing a version based on a screenplay by Oren Moverman (he even led a reading of the script at the Sarasota Film Festival with Stanley Tucci and Ben Foster, but that film ultimately never came to fruition). This new version will have a screenplay by Justin Kuritzkes, will be directed by Luca Guadagnino and will feature Daniel Craig (yes, Mr “James Bond”! ).
For more about this project (still very much in its planning stages, but definitely green lighted) see here and here
The most prominent previous Burroughs feature film was, of course, David Cronenberg‘s Naked Lunch (from 1991)
See the original trailer for that movie – here
Video of Anne Waldman‘s memorable (incandescent) reading this past March at the Jack Kerouac Centennial Lowell celebrations is now up on the Fast Speaking Music You Tube channel – see here
Here she is reading a section from Kerouac’s Old Angel Midnight
“Mayer had a stroke when she was just 49 – the ailment that killed her father arrived on schedule as she had feared. Years later she recalled telling Allen Ginsberg that the major effect of the stroke was, briefly, boredom. “I am so bored,” Mayer told Ginsberg. He responded, “Well, this is a good time to meditate.” “Fuck you, Allen!” came her reply.”
By all means, more WSB movies, but casting Daniel Craig is a terrible choice!
Daniel Craig could be amazing. Let us be happy the film is being made at all.