Big Joy - The Adventures of James Broughton
James Broughton: filmmaker, artist, dancer, poet and true Renaissance man. Broughton, along with his fellow artist pals Madeline Gleason, Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer and Kenneth Rexroth, ushered in the San Francisco Renaissance era in the years following World War II, an era which birthed the more well-known Beat Generation.
Broughton was an "outsider’s outsider," as one historian claims. Here is a man who, from his very beginnings growing up in Modesto, California, was marginalized; confused about himself and his place in the world. Broughton’s difficult and strained relationship with his class-conscious mother is recalled here by many former colleagues and friends, some long deceased and heard only in voice-over. (One such former colleague is none other than Pauline Kael, famed film critic and mother of Broughton’s daughter, Gina.) Broughton found community and creative release in the burgeoning San Francisco Renaissance, a time when poets and artists were thriving in the city. Originally intending to be a dancer, Broughton’s two left feet compelled him to focus his attention towards filmmaking. Throughout his life, Broughton directed several acclaimed short films, including the (at the time) scandalous "The Bed" and the award-winning "The Pleasure Garden," made with then lover Kermit Sheets.
Broughton’s primary objective, it seems, was to find ways in which to harness joy and positive energy and present them to the world. "Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton" does a profound justice to this noble endeavor. The film’s canvass is painted with vivid colors and psychedelic effects, a worthy palette with which to chronicle the life of a man so committed to finding one’s inner Zen. Filmmakers Stephen Silha, Eric Slade and Dawn Logsdon, as well as their creative team, provide ample archival footage from Broughton’s early days. In addition to Kael, we hear from, among others, dancer Anna Halprin, Broughton’s ex-wife Suzanna Hart and his eventual soul mate in life and love, former student Joel Singer.
At one hour and twenty-two minutes, I sometimes felt as though the filmmakers were trying to cram information into a fixed time frame, and the film probably could have benefitted from a longer running time where the sense of urgency might not have been so apparent. However, as it stands, "Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton" is a lovingly-crafted tribute to an influential man who clearly led an interesting and unconventional life, true to his remarkably brave and unique sense of self.