Before Burning Man and even before the Beat poets, there was James Broughton, a true master of the art of radical self-expression and a pioneer of “poetic cinema.”
Broughton died in 1999, but if he were still alive today, the iconoclast would be turning 101. Before his death, the effervescent and experimental artist had a major influence in the San Francisco poetry renaissance of the 1950s, the counter-culture “happenings” of the 1960s, the gay and sexual liberations of the 1970s and the beginnings of the Radical Faeries queer spiritual movement in the 1980s and 90s.
Fun fact #1, Broughton and Harry Hay, founder of both the Mattachine Society and the Radical Faeries, had a brief tryst in 1933 when they were both Stanford students.Today, James Broughton continues to inspire all us free spirits to “follow our own weird.” To celebrate his birthday, you can watch the enlightening documentary, Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton.The Big Joy documentary features clips from Broughton’s frisky and carefree films, as well as interviews from noted San Francisco authors Armistead Maupin, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Kevin Killian. Watch the trailer below and stream the full film on Netflix or rent it on Amazon Video.
Despite his status as the ultimate outsider, Broughton ended up winning a special prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Even George Lucas has claimed to have been inspired by the avant-garde poet/filmmaker.
“When I got out of film school, what I wanted to really do was to make films like James Broughton,” the Star Wars director once said in an interview. Fun fact #3, both filmmakers were born and raised in Modesto, California.
You can read a selected collection of James Broughton’s poetry here and get one of his books here. Broughton’s rare 1933 memoir, Coming Unbuttoned, will be reprinted by a new LGBT indie press.“A man should be more than an aggressive mind with an embarrassed cock attached,” Broughton said when he was asked about rethinking masculinity. “A man who expresses his sensitivity and imagination is closer to being a whole man than a one-sided, self-censoring man.”
For one last fun fact: James Broughton was also a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. So here’s to the Cannes-winning filmmaker and drag nun who inspired the Beat poets, the Radical Faeries, Burning Man and even George Lucas. What’s not to be joyous about?