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Beats at the Fox

By J. D. Bacharach

From the Free Venice Beachhead # 125 May 1980

The Beats: An Existential Comedy by Venice poet and filmmaker Philomene Long will have its premiere showing at the Fox Venice on Monday May 26 as part of the theater’s evening of Beat Generation films.

The work was first conceived some three years ago as a tribute to Stuart Z. Perkoff whose poetic vision spanned the fifteen years between the heyday of the Venice West/Gas House scenes and his death in 1974. From filmed encounters with friends and fellow poets Aya, Frank Rios and Jack Hirschman, the project has grown to span the country from Venice to San Francisco’s North Beach and New York’s Greenwich Village and to draw upon the memories and imaginations of filmmaker Shirley Clarke, super-star Viva and poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg. The jazz score of the film was composed and performed by Si Perkoff for an album entitled Poets Journey.

In form, the film is not so much a historical documentary of the period as a recreation of the Spirit of the times through the verbal magic of its cast of characters - a style of Life and Art which liberated a part of these States from the paranoia and rigidity of the McCarthy Era.

The beat of the film moves back and forth in time between 1958 and the present and what emerges is a cinematic poem celebrating eight Free Spirits who are linked by their dedication to their Art and an unflinching non-conformity tempered by laughter. They are the "Holy Fools," the Poets Saints and Mad Ones of this Existential Comedy.

Like its subject, the film has endured the vicissitudes of life in Modern Times - the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (including Prop 13 devastation and soaring film stock prices due to silver speculation.) It was once evacuated in the face of fire and later missed being swept away in last winter’s Topanga Flood.

The filmmaker and her partner-producer Jay Kugelman came to The Beats following a series of short films and long radio productions (the week-long Alexandria Quartet and Mythathon.) broadcast on KPFK in 1976 and 1977. Their work combines a love for the spoken and written word with a poet’s eye and a musician’s ear. Philomene has published a collecton of poetry (available at local bookstores) entitled The Dream Awakening while Jay has produced Oscar Wilde’s Salome and Thomas Mann’s short stories for Pacifica Radio. They also teamed in a co-production of J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye which was performed for KPFK two years ago.

The Beats: An Existential Comedy will be screening with Pull My Daisy at about 8 p.m.

Legacy of the Beats
by Joan Friedberg
Free Venice Beachhead June 1980 #126

Back in about 1958 or 1959, I remember that the one thing I wanted most, next to a date for the Senior Prom, was a dyed-to-match skirt and sweater outfit like the one Pam Fox had. Every high school had its Pam Fox, the epitome of the perfection of beauty, an ideal that made everyone else feel inferior. Today, she’d be called a “10.” The one thing that stands out in my mind from those days in looking back was the tremendous peer pressure to conform to a set standard of appearance and behavior.

About that same time, a few poets and other creative types, who came to be known as Beatniks, were rejecting materialistic values and going largely unnoticed in doing so until the media picked up on them. Then they became a huge joke.

By 1962, when I was a sophomore at the University of Illinois, great cultural changes were raking place, and in retrospect I think many of us would give credit to the Beatniks for creating the spiritual enlightenment that set these changes in motion.

The Beatnik movement, if it can be called that, was centered in Greenwich Village and on the West coast, in San Francisco and here in Venice. Some of the Beat poets still live in Venice. I once asked one of them what it was like in Venice in those days, expressing the idea that someone should come forth with something left from that era, whose only legacy seems to be its poetry.

“We’re not interested in our own history,” he told me.”

Others, however, apparently are, judging by the healthy turnout at the Fox Venice Monday, (Memorial Day) May 26 to see the premier showing of Philomene Long’s The Beats: An Existential Comedy.

A short historical film immediately preceding The Beats (and produced by some of the Beats) seemed to me like a poorly made home movie whose main theme was to show how a bunch of surly, down-and-outers get bored, play a little jazz, and spend a lot of time talking about whether or not it’s time to leave. Just when I was wondering why I’ve always had this fascination for anything having to do with the Beats, Long’s film opened with a hilarious clipping of the late Venice poet, Stuart Perkoff, making his debut on the Groucho Marx show.

Perkoff, who must have been somewhat short, steps out onto the stage, his head shaved, with an innocent-looking, blonde girl who towers over him a full head taller, and Grouch asks them if they’re engaged to be married.

Groucho then asks Perkoff, “Are you a Beatnik?” And Perkoff, while denying he is a Beatnik, proceeds to give a very articulate definition of the beatnik philosophy and lifestyle to what must have been, we can imagine, a very skeptical audience.

The film keeps coming back to this little vignette in a running gag technique, which by itself is worth the price of admission. I don’t know why, but every time the film cut back to this Mutt and Jeff scene, I had to restrain myself from bursting into uncontrollable laughter. Maybe I saw myself in that innocent girl. (As I recall, she was wearing what looked like a dyed-to-match outfit.)

Watcing the film, I remember that it wasn’t just our clothes that were dyed-to-match then. We were supposed to think alike also. And that’s why, I think, Beat history interests us… we forget now that these were the days when nice girls didn’t have sex before marriage, everyone went to church on Sunday to purge themselves of guilt, and McCarthyism had everyone worried that their neighbors might be Communists.

“We had to fight for what we now all take for granted,” says Aya, a poet in the film. The Beats were the first of a group of middle class people who rejected middle class values, Shirley Clarke reminds us as she reminisces about the Beat era. The Beatrs palnted the first seeds of what would become the social revolution of the 60s.

The film is interesting in two other respects. One highlight is some rare historical footage of Venice in the days of Venice West. Superimposed with narrative and some fine poetry by Frank Rios, who confirms what I’ve always imagined when he says, “There was magic in Venice then.”

The most salient quality of the film is the poetry, which is thought-provoking, meaningful and moving even 20 years after it was composed. Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Dog,” about the freedom of a dog has some finely-tuned humor. It nothing else, this film illuminates the fact that some excellent poetry emerged in an era which is often remembered only for having produced “Howl.”

The film winds up with Perkoff and his tall blonde partner as they walk off the stage of the Groucho Marx show…an apt ending. When Allen Ginsberg earlier is asked whether or not he has any nostalgia for the Beat era, he says no. He claims to be living in the present, as a true existentialist should. The real feat of this film is that it doesn’t take the whole Beat thing too seriously, and it shouldn’t. They never took themselves too seriously, after all.


Philomene Long:
Her Luminous Dance

by J. D. Bacharach

Free Venice Beachhead
February 1983 #158

City which lies
Beneath the breasts of birds
Guarded by cats
Streets stained with Beauty
Behind every corner
The Muse, Angel of surprise
Breathes poems
Out of pavement cracks.
From where the Voice begins...
...............(Venice poem by Philomene Long)

On February 15, the day after Valentine's Day, Philomene Long, Venice poet and film director (The Beats: An Existential Comedy) will present a reading of her poetry at the Old Venice Jail

Born in Greenwich Village, with the sounds of poets shouting their verses and jumping out of windows, Philomene has several times crossed the country following the call of the Muse in Theater, Film and Poetry, and has lived in Venice for the past 15 years.

In the course of her cinematic career she has created numerous celluloid poems culminating in The Beats, a poetic documentary from a Venice point of view with Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Stuart Z. Perkoff, Frank T. Rios, Jack Hirschman, Aya, Viva and Shirley Clarke. The film was reviewed at its May, 1980 premiere by all the print media of Los Angeles. The following is from Barry Brennan in The Evening Outlook.

The Beats...is a lovely and humane film...Tenderly and lovingly made...(it) is less of a documentary than a lyric poem...Ms. Long's technique is elliptical and subjective. Her film is a collage of shadows and seagulls. She knows that poetry is made out of solitude. Somehow she films loneliness...Originally intended as a tribute to the late Venice poet Stuart Perkoff, The Beats expands into a larger discussion of what it means to be a poet...

The film has screened repeatedly at the Fox Venice as well as in theaters up and down the Coast, in Denver, Seattle and New York, and is now being edited for PBS.

Philomene has recently written a screenplay on the life of Emma Goldman (which she and her partner Jay Kugelman are in the process of "packaging") as well as a Zen Horror film which she intends to direct once the funds are raised. She is also working on a surreal novel about a cloistered nun in which the main character is Silence - base on her early adulthood years spent in a convent.

Her radio productions of drama and literature with her partner are by now a regular feature on KPFK. The two have just completed a Marathon Literary Event entitled The Electric Ark, the most recent of their radio specials that include The Alexandria Quartet (with 85 actors and actresses): The Mythathon, a week-long series of myths, tales and legends; and J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye read by Bud Cort.

Behind this tremendous outpouring of creative energy lies the Muse:-

I am the Poem.
My restless light
Burns the stem of memory.
Your pulse will feel my neat...

...These words are blind.
Through your eyes they see.
.............(excerpts from Odd Phenomenon by Philomene Long)

In affiliation with the Venice Temple sponsored by Rob and Anita Alexander, Philomene has done service to this Muse and it is to Her a patroness and Protectress of the artists of this community that she is dedicated this evening of poetry.

Philomene will be reading from her books The Dream Awakening and Odd Phenomenon in an Abandoned City, the latter being a collection of verse based on a series of paintings by R. L. Penney with whom she has had an 18-year creative relationship.

The evening at the Jail will also include the premiere showing of a videotape on Philomene and her photographer/filmmaker sister Pegarty Long by Judith Binder as well as a series of photographic and musical compositions inspired by Philomene's poetry by Pegarty Long and Brian Halio.

My Heart, Your Heart
Hold the sound
Of a Great Sea.
It is My Voice,
Your Voice
The One
Whose Word
Will ring
After we hear
The last star...
(LANDSCAPE poem by Philomene Long)

The reading is a part of the Old Venice Jail Tuesday Evening Series, coordinated by Israel Halpern. It takes place at SPARC, 681 Venice Blvd. on February 15, at 8 p.m. Admission is free. For further information call 822-____.

Philomene --
Bring your luminous dance
To open new visions
Within the black
Against which
All struggle
(note from Stuart Z. Perkoff)

© 2004 - 2012 Pat Hartman
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