Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton
Facts and Figures
Run time: 82 mins
In Theaters: Saturday 9th March 2013
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Fresh: 9 Rotten: 1
IMDB: 7.6 / 10
Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton Review
It's fitting that filmmakers Stephen Silha and Eric Slade assemble this documentary with as much colourful poetry as they can muster, because the subject matter was a remarkably life-loving man whose impact on the arts shouldn't be underestimated. James Broughton celebrated the wonder of life in 23 books and 23 films, all made with a poet's perspective to encourage people to seek and embrace happiness wherever they found it.
After leaving his rural home in Central California, Broughton became a beat poet and experimental filmmaker in 1940s San Francisco, dancing with words and images that focused on the purity of love. But personally, he struggled with his own self-worth, grappling with the feeling that he had both sexes inside him. He had a child with Pauline Kael, who went on to become perhaps America's greatest ever film critic, and was married for 16 years to Suzanna Hart with whom he had two more children. But the love of his life was filmmaker Joel Singer, who was 26 when he met the 61-year-old Broughton. They stayed together, making films until Broughton's death at age 85 in 1999.
Broughton's most famous poems (This Is It) and films (1968's taboo-busting The Bed) are simple expressions of what it means to be human. Best of all, this documentary captures his cheeky approach to life, refusing to take anything to seriously. Even Hart's discomfort at talking about their breakup, which clearly still stings badly, is shown with almost a wink. Indeed, Broughton's work always tries to find happiness in a world infused with pain. And his main goal in life was to escape barriers society put on him so he could achieve his vision of a world where loving and comradeship are the most important things. Which is why after his most successful movie, The Pleasure Garden (shot in England in 1953), he rejected the chance to make movies in Hollywood.
This film is a wealth of archive material, including clips from Broughton's films as well as scenes in which he discusses his work. There's also plenty of playful, artful footage to accompany readings, journal entries and big ideas, along with interviews with friends, family, artists and historians. As the film goes along, it's impossible not to be infected with Broughton's buoyant world view, realising that pure joy is the only thing that can rescue humanity from the stupidity all around us. And that because they believe in the unbelievable, worship wonder and celebrate life, poets are the spokespeople for big joy.