Big Joy: The Adventures
of James Broughton
Runs Fri., Nov. 1–Thurs., Nov. 7 at Northwest Film Forum. Not rated. 83 minutes.
“Follow your own weird.” “I believe in ecstasy for everyone.” “When in doubt, twirl.” These pearls of breathtaking insight and wit came from the pen of poet/filmmaker James Broughton, subject of Stephen Silha and Eric Slade’s doc. Born in Modesto, Calif., in 1913, Broughton came of age in the bohemian San Francisco newly liberated by the end of World War II. Time spent in England resulted in his avant-garde short The Pleasure Garden, acclaimed at Cannes; he returned to SF to find the Beats in full flower. From there he blithely rode every zeitgeisty wave, through the Summer of Love and into the years of Gay Lib, as an elder statesfaerie. Pioneer or opportunist? Prescient genius or one of the most adept coattail-riders in American cultural history? I suspect the latter, judging from his twee, nursery-rhyme-scented poems and dismayingly dated, emptily self-indulgent shorts (some of which will be screened Saturday and Sunday at 5 p.m.). Despite his prolificacy, the clips shown in Big Joy suggest that he’ll be remembered in cinema history primarily as the father of Pauline Kael’s daughter.
Broughton married costume designer Suzanna Hart in 1962 but left her for student filmmaker Joel Singer in 1975 after three days of sex at Beck’s Motel in San Francisco (something of a gay brothel at the time), an epiphany for him but an embittering blow to Hart—curiously strong reactions both, since Broughton had already had flings with both genders for decades. From then to his death in 1999 (in Port Townsend!), his work seems to consist of little else but talking about those three days. Affectionately researched and crafted, Big Joy’s sole but serious flaw is that it doesn’t make the case that its subject merits the attention.