Big Joy: The Adventures Of James Broughton
Most people are familiar with the way Hollywood was uprooted in the 1970s. The cinema was steadily losing its audience to television and a stylistic formula that rang false with audiences who were becoming civilly and sexually liberated. So film-school revolutionaries took lightweight cameras and production equipment on location to make documentary-like and highly personal movies that focused on the director as an author, modeling the European films they saw in art house theaters.
But there were artists in the United States who had been doing this since the 1940s. Not only had they abandon narrative conventions of Hollywood, they were also creating a kind of film poetry.
James Broughton, along with Maya Deren and Stan Brakhage, is one of the premiere names in experimental film, as the genre came to be called. "Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton" chronicles the filmmaker's life and his decision to not only "follow his own weird," but divorce his wife and accept living as a gay man.
Starting out as a poet in San Francisco years before the beats arrived, and spending a good amount of time dedicated exclusively to poetry rather than film, Broughton nevertheless significantly impacted American experimental film. (He was actually married to Pauline Kael for a time.)
Clearly an example of "I can't believe this guy didn't realize he was gay," Broughton lived in the closet for most of his life even as his films were celebrating unrestricted sexual awakening.
Full of information and beautiful clips from Broughton's films, "Big Joy" focuses on the filmmaker's personal journey to discover a "soulmate." This is a fascinating narrative journey, though I would have liked to see more information about his movies and his contribution to experimental film.
Luckily the DVD is packed with additional footage, deleted scenes, extra interviews and a presentation by performance artist Keith Hennessy that actually does give a greater context for the poet's work as a film artist.
"Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton"
Documentary, 82 min.
DVD $29.95, VOD release on iTunes