Frameline 37 featured an excellent documentary on James Broughton, the San Francisco poet and filmmaker who was part of the San Francisco Renaissance – Big Joy: the Adventures of James Broughton (2013) by Dawn Logsdon, Stephen Silha, and Eric Slade.During Broughton’s life he wrote 23 books of poetry, many of them children’s tales, and made 23 short films.
Broughton first became involved with Pauline Kael, an important film critic whose career began in Berkeley at the KPFA radio station. They moved into a flat on Baker St and had a child together. Later they split up and Broughton developed close relationships with men.
Broughton was a poet that made films that were recognized at the Venice and Cannes Film Festival. The Pleasure Garden (1953) won the Best Fantastic-Poetic Film bestowed to him by Jury President Jean Cocteau
When Broughton returned from Europe in 1955, he stopped making films, even when offered a chance to direct a Hollywood movie based on his Cannes award. Broughton then made his headquarters at City Lights Bookstore. Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” had just been published. The police raided the store and an obscenity trial followed.
Broughton’s decision to return to the USA from Europe was as momentous as his decision to not make a film in Hollywood. He found that his art was not appreciated as it had been in Paris. He had fears of being taken to a mental institution.
Drawn to the psychologist Carl Jung, he embarked on integrating his male and female sides, and studied androgyny, as Marcel Duchamp before him. He discovered in dreams “you are your own twin and your own god”.
In his 50’s he married Suzanna Hart and had two children, collaborated with the Eastern guru Alan Watts and taught cinema studies at San Francisco Art Institute.
After 16 years of marriage, at 61 he left Hart for his soul mate, Joel Singer, a 26-year-old man. This was during the 70s, which he regarded as the best years of his life and when he wrote his greatest love poems.
“Big Joy: the Adventures of James Broughton” has numerous interviews and at times illustrates the complexity of his creative sides of Broughton on a large whiteboard, which is less than illuminating.
According to Armistead Maupin, Broughton was a spokesman of the 1970’s gay moment. He believed that gay sex was sacred and often spoke about “ecstasy” and “joy” which impressed people and still does. At the end of his life he spoke about how to choose bliss.