Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Original Beats and The Burning Ghat
GREGORY CORSO and HERBERT HUNCKE
Two lions of the Beat Generation filmed by Francois Bernadi
The ORIGINAL BEATS outtakes: HERBERT HUNCKE
The ORIGINAL BEATS outtakes: GREGORY CORSO
Original Beats is a short documentary film by Francois Bernadi on Gregory Corso and Herbert Huncke.
Huncke was the original Beat. He coined the term, lived the life and was on the road long before Kerouac. Here he talks about his life as petty criminal, drug user and Beat writer.
Corso believed the poet and his life are inseparable. It was a belief he held true, otherwise the poet couldn't write like a lion, write truthfully.
This is a fascinating and informative portrait on the eldest and the youngest of the original Beats, filmed shortly before Huncke's death in 1996.
Often overshadowed by the Beat triumvurate of Burroughs, Ginsberg and Kerouac, Herbert Huncke and Gregory Corso were nonetheless integral to the Beat family and, on a personal level at least, often the most interesting. Both had been in jail (the same jail though not at the same time), both, in contrast to the Big Three who were all Columbia Grads, were self taught.
Huncke's 'The Evening Sun Turned Crimson', which, despite a relative lack of artlessness, is direct, honest, even charming. Huncke details his early life hustling, plumbing the depths of drug addiction. Huncke describing walking into Alphabet City with open sores on his face after scratching his skin raw shooting speed. This kind of thing has been done to death (literally), but Huncke was the among the first, even amongst the Beats, and his stories about the people he met along the way -- drag queens, hustlers, junkies,and general people around the city -- often have warmth, even tenderness, even when he described the most desperate characters.
Corso I remember most from 'The Beat Hotel', a dive hotel in Paris where Corso lived and shared a bed with Ginsberg and Ginsberg's love Peter Orlovsky. Not that Corso got into any kinky three way thing. Corso knew from his days in jail that he was into chicks, and chicks only -- they shared a bed because they had no heat.
In contrast to the gaunt, priestlike (or creepy, depending on your point of view) Burroughs, who lived in his own room on an upper floor, the three younger men (and Corso was the youngest of all) run wild like especially Rabelesian college kids on a spree. Invited to meet the French surrealists, they arrive ecstatically drunk, crawl around on all fours barking like dogs in what they thought was an appropriately Surrealist action. Corso, I think it was, jumped on Breton's lap and chewed on his tie. Breton and most of the other guests, good Parisian bourgeoisie despite their pretensions, were not amused by this behaviour. Duchamp, the exception, was charmed by their very American irreverence and energy.
In this charming half-hour short by film-maker Francois Bernadi, which was shot in 1996 shortly before Herbert Huncke's death, Corso and Huncke read at the St. Mark's Poetry Project and are interviewed separately. Corso is irascible, brittle; Huncke is more amenable, sitting at a desk in his room in the Chelsea Hotel. We see the lobby of the Chelsea, and the 42nd that Huncke first discovered in the '50s. Of this discovery, Huncke says:
"I liked the lights, I liked the way people moved. It was fresh. . . people seemed a lot freer in their actions than people did elsewhere."
Corso, who also hustled on 42nd for a time, getting older men to take him out to dinner then running off, remembers the Deuce in less romantic terms:
"The most deplorable area to hang around -- only the lowest of the low hang around there, if you've got nothing to offer society or even themselves . . . there was no class there."
THE BURNING GHAT
Starring beat icon Herbert Huncke (1915-1996) in his sole acting role, The Burning Ghat was filmed on location in Huncke's then apartment on Henry Street in Brooklyn, New York. Co-starring his longtime companion Louis Cartwright (later murdered in the East Village in 1994), the film was written and directed by James Rasin (Beautiful Darling: The Life and Times of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol Superstar) and Jerome Poynton. It was edited by Francois Bernadi (director: Walking the Dog, Original Beats, for a kiss..., The last boat), and shot by Michael Slovis (Emmy Award winning cinematographer of "Breaking Bad").
Although conceived and scripted as a dramatic short, the film incorporates documentary elements reflecting the real life relationship between Huncke and Louis. Allen Ginsberg wrote of the film, "O Rare Herbert Huncke, live on film! The Burning Ghat features late-in-lifetime old partners Huncke & Louis playing characters beyond themselves with restrained solid self-awareness, their brief masquerade of soul climaxing in an inspired moment's paradox bittersweet as an O'Henry's tale's last twist". Harry Smith said of the film, "It should have been longer".
The Burning Ghat was featured at the 53rd Venice Biennial, and included in the Whitney Museum's "Beat Culture and the New America" show of 1996. It won the Gold Plaque Award for Best Short Film at the 1990 Chicago International Film Festival.