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‘The Burning Ghat’: Short film starring original Beat Herbert Huncke

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The Burning Ghat is a strange, yet revealing short film that reveals something of the relationship between original Beat, Herbert Huncke, and his long-time companion and room-mate, Louis Cartwright.

Huncke was a petty crook and junkie, who hustled around Times Square in the 1940s, where he met William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. It was Huncke who originally introduced these 3 young writers to the “Beat Life,” and became a major inspiration on their writing.

Not long after meeting him, Ginsberg wrote in his journal:

Who is Herbert Huncke? When I first knew him I saw him in what I considered the ‘glamorous’ light of a petty criminal and Times Square hustler who was experienced in the ways, thoughts, and activities of an underground culture which is enormously extensive. The attempt to dismiss him because of his social irresponsibility is something that I was never able to conceive as truthful or productive. I saw him as a self-damned soul—but a soul nonetheless, aware of itself and others in a strangely perceptive and essentially human way. He has great charm. I see that he suffers, more than myself, more than anyone I know of perhaps; suffers like a saint of old in the making; and also has cosmic or supersensory perceptions of an extraordinary depth and openness.

Louis Cartwright was a photographer (he took the portrait of Huncke above), drug addict and alleged pimp. According to Huncke, he was also someone not to be trusted. In 1994, Cartwright was stabbed to death, and his murder still remains unsolved.

The Burning Ghat was directed by James Rasin (Beautiful Darling: The Life and Times of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol Superstar) and Jerome Poynton, and was filmed in Huncke’s apartment on Henry Street, New York.

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.

Made the same year Huncke published his autobiography Guilty of Everything, this was to be his only on-screen, acting performance.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

‘Original Beats’: A film on Herbert Hunke and Gregory Corso


 
Out-takes from ‘Original Beats’ featuring Herbert Huncke, after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
William Burroughs on trial for corrupting Turkish morality?

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Almost 14 years after his death, William S Burroughs is on trial for corrupting Turkish morality. The Istanbul Prosecutor’s Office has opened an investigation into Burroughs’ novel The Soft Machine, which was recently translated and published by Sel Publishing House in January. Tukey’s English Hurriyet Daily News and Economic Review reports:

The court referred to a report written by the Prime Ministry’s Council for Protecting Minors from Explicit Publications that accused the novel, The Soft Machine, of “incompliance with moral norms” and “hurting people’s moral feelings.” Sel Publishing issued a press release that included parts of their testimony in the court.

“It is impossible to understand the insistence in sending books written and published for adults to councils that specialize in minors. If we consider things from this perspective, then dozens of such reports could be written about TV channels, newscasts and thousands of books,” read the testimony given by the publishing house.

The testimony also argued that the Prime Ministry’s council had no credentials in literature, aesthetics or translation, thus causing what the representatives of the publishing house called a “freakish” decision by the council.

The council also accused the novel of “lacking unity in its subject matter,” “incompliance with narrative unity,” for “using slang and colloquial terms” and “the application of a fragmented narrative style,” while claiming that Burroughs’s book contained unrealistic interpretations that were neither personal nor objective by giving examples from the lifestyles of historical and mythological figures. None of the above, argued the publishing house, constitutes a criminal act.

The council went further and said, “The book does not constitute a literary piece of work in its current condition,” adding it would add nothing new to the reader’s reservoir of knowledge, and argued the book developed “attitudes that were permissive to crime by concentrating on the banal, vulgar and weak attributes of humanity.”

The representatives of the publishing house responded to these charges. “Just as no writer is under any special obligation to highlight humanity’s fair attributes under every circumstance, the measure of whether a book has any literary value or not, and the judge of what the book may add to the reader’s reservoir of knowledge, is not an official state institution, but the reader himself,” they said.

“Once again, societies comprised of modern, creative and inquisitive individuals are formed by reading and being exposed to literary texts and works of art that can be considered as the most extreme examples of their kind,” further asserted the defendants’ statement.

The testimony also invited members of the council to conduct “a simple Internet research” about the writer, and learn about the fact that Burroughs was one of the pioneers the “Beat Generation” that rebelled against the stagnant morality of the middle class in post-World War II America. The testimony also drew attention to the fact that the “cut-up” technique used in the book was once heralded as a great novelty among literary circles.

“Through this technique, Burroughs runs counter, not just to entrenched attitudes in people’s lifestyles but also in contradiction to [older] literary techniques. That being the case and since the aim of the book itself is to push boundaries, it is clearly absurd to search for criminal elements in the book by suggesting that the book does not conform with social norms,” further stated the press release.

“Moreover, it is also meaningless to expect William S. Burroughs, who was not raised in accordance with the National Education Law, or as an individual who ‘identifies with the national, moral, humanitarian, material and spiritual cultural values of Turkish society, and who always tries to exalt his family, country and nation,’ to have produced a text within this framework,” read the testimony. “It is clear and obvious that this case carries no weight nor any respectability outside of the borders of our country.”

“We demand an end to investigations that constrain our activities and the prosecution of books for any reason whatsoever,” concluded the statement.

 

Bonus: William Burroughs reads ‘Junky’ (abridged version)
 
With thanks to Steve Duffy
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Face to Face with Allen Ginsberg

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This is a fine interview with Allen Ginsberg taken from the BBC series Face to Face, in which Ginsberg opens up about his family, loves, identity, drugs and even sings.

The series, Face to Face originally started in 1959, and was hosted by John Freeman, whose skill and forthright questioning cut through the usual mindless chatter of such interview shows. Freeman, a former editor of the New Statesman was often considered brusque and rude, but his style of questioning fitted the form of the program, which was more akin to an interview between psychiatrist and patient. The original series included, now legendary, interviews with Martin Luther King, Tony Hancock, Professor Carl Jung, Evelyn Waugh and Gilbert Harding.

In 1989, the BBC revived the series, this time with the excellent Jeremy Isaacs as questioner, who interviewed Allen Ginsberg for this program, first broadcast on 9th January 1995.

Watching this now, makes me wonder what has happened to poetry? Where are our revolutionary poets? Where are our poets who speak out, demonstrate, make the front page, and tell it like it is? And why are our bookstores cluttered with the greeting card verse of 100 Great Love Poems, 101 Even Greater Love Poems, and Honest to God, These Are the Greatest Fucking Love Poems, You’ll Ever Fucking Read. O, for a Ginsebrg now.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment