A selected collection of his work, All: A James Broughton Reader, edited by Jack Foley, was released in 2007 by White Crane Books.
"The Selected Films of James Broughton" is a DVD compilation of seventeen films on 3 discs, released in 2006 by Facets Multimedia.
Born to wealthy parents, he lost his father early to the 1918 influenza epidemic and spent the rest of his life getting over his high-strung, overbearing mother. (Picture: Harry Hay)
Before he was three, "Sunny Jim" experienced a transformational visit from his muse, Hermy, which he describes in his autobiography, Coming Unbuttoned (1993):
I remember waking in the dark and hearing my parents arguing in the next room. But a more persistent sound, a kind of whirring whistle, spun a light across the ceiling. I stood up in my crib and looked into the backyard. Over a neighbor’s palm tree a pulsing headlamp came whistling directly toward me. When it had whirled right up to my window, out of its radiance stepped a naked boy. He was at least three years older than I but he looked all ages at once. He had no wings, but I knew he was angel-sent: his laughing beauty illuminated the night and his melodious voice enraptured my ears…. He insisted I would always be a poet even if I tried not to be….Despite what I might hear to the contrary the world was not a miserable prison, it was a playground for a nonstop tournament between stupidity and imagination. If I followed the game sharply enough, I could be a useful spokesman for Big Joy.In the book, Broughton remarks on his love affairs with both men and women. Among his male lovers was gay activist Harry Hay.
James Broughton and Joel Singer, 1988, by Robert Giard
James Broughton was an American poet, and poetic filmmaker. He was part of the San Francisco Renaissance, a precursor to the Beat poets. In Broughton’s moment of need, Hermy, his muse appeared in the person of a twenty-five-year-old Canadian film student named Joel Singer. Broughton’s meeting with Singer was a life-changing, life-determining moment that animated his consciousness with a power that lasted until his death. Broughton died on May 17, 1999, with champagne on his lips.
He briefly lived with the film critic Pauline Kael and they had a daughter Gina, born in 1948.
That meeting with "Hermy" prefigured the cavalcade of mystery, imagination, sexuality, danger, humor, and transformation that would mark the 23 books and 23 films Broughton produced in a life laced with travel, teaching, self-analysis, and rich and prickly friendships.
This is ItHis work is quintessentially Californian – exploring and engaging the polar frontiers of wildness and civility, male and female, body and spirit—with the crash of Pacific Ocean waves echoing throughout. "Ultimately I have learned more about poetry / from music and magic than from literature," he wrote.
and I am It
and You are It
and so is That
and He is It
and She is It
and It is It
and That is That—"This is It"
Broughton was kicked out of military school for having an affair with a classmate, dropped out of Stanford before graduating, and spent time in Europe during the 1950s, where he received an award in Cannes from Jean Cocteau for the "poetic fantasy" of his film The Pleasure Garden, made in England with partner Kermit Sheets. (Picture: Kermit Sheets)
"Cinema saved me from suicide when I was 32 by revealing to me a wondrous reality: the love between fellow artists," Broughton wrote. This theme carried him through his 85 years. "It was as important to live poetically as to write poems."
Despite many creative love affairs during the San Francisco Beat Scene, Broughton put off marriage until age 49, when, steeped in his explorations of Jungian psychology, he married Suzanna Hart in a three-day ceremony on the Pacific coast documented by his friend, the experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage. Suzanna’s theatrical background and personality made for a great playmate; they had two children. And they built a great community among the creative spirits of Alan Watts, Michael McClure, Anna Halprin, and Imogen Cunningham.
In 1967’s "summer of love," Broughton made a film, The Bed, a celebration of the dance of life which broke taboos against frontal nudity and won prizes at many film festivals. It rekindled Broughton’s filmmaking and led to more tributes to the human body (The Golden Positions), the eternal child (This Is It), the eternal return (The Water Circle), the eternal moment (High Kukus), and the eternal feminine (Dreamwood). "These eternalities praised the beauty of humans, the surprises of soul, and the necessity of merriment," Broughton wrote.
Indeed, Broughton repeatedly explored the temple of the human body – the "Godbody" – as a taproot for healing and peace, both for the individual and society.
Come forth unabashedHe developed a great following, especially among students at the San Francisco Art Institute, where he taught film (and wrote Seeing the Light, a book about filmmaking) and artistic ritual.
Come out unbuttoned
Only through body can
you clasp the divine
Only through body can
you dance with the god
In every man’s hand
the gift of compassion
In every man’s hand
the beloved connection
Trust one another
or drown—"Shaman Psalm"
Despite his poetic and cinematic explorations throughout his career, Broughton was drowning in his own unresolved mother-issues, which translated into impotence:
Had my soul tottered off to sleepAs poet Jack Foley puts it in All: A James Broughton Reader, "In Broughton’s moment of need, Hermy appeared again in the person of a twenty-five-year-old Canadian film student named Joel Singer:
taking my potency with it?
Had they both retired before I could
leaving me a classroom somnambulist?
Why else should I at sixty-one
feel myself shriveling into fadeout?—"Wondrous The Merge"
Then on a cold seminar MondayBroughton’s meeting with Singer was a life-changing, life-determining moment that animated his consciousness with a power that lasted until his death." In 2004, Singer wrote of their long relationship and collaboration in White Crane.
In walked an unannounced redeemer
Disguised as a taciturn student
Brisk and resolute in scruffy mufti
He set down his backpack shook his hair
And offered me unequivocal devotion
He dismissed my rebuffs and ultimatums
He scoffed at suggestions of disaster
He insisted he had been given authority
To provide my future happiness
Was it possible he had been sent
From some utopian headquarters?—"Wondrous The Merge"
With Singer, Broughton traveled and made more films – Hermes Bird (1979), a slow-motion look at an erection shot with the camera developed to photograph atomic bomb explosions, The Gardener of Eden (1981), filmed when they lived in Sri Lanka, Devotions (1983), which takes delight in friendly things men can do together from the odd to the rapturous, and Scattered Remains (1988), a cheerfully death-obsessed tribute to Broughton’s poetry and filmmaking.
In fact, Broughton explored death deeply throughout his life. He died in May, 1999 with champagne on his lips, in the house in Port Townsend, Washington where he and Joel lived for 10 years. Before he died, he said, "My creeping decrepitude has crept me all the way to the crypt." His gravestone in a Port Townsend cemetery reads, "Adventure – not predicament."
Burial: Laurel Grove Cemetery, Port Townsend, Jefferson County, Washington, USA
American photographer Robert Giard is renowned for his portraits of American poets and writers; his particular focus was on gay and lesbian writers. Some of his photographs of the American gay and lesbian literary community appear in his groundbreaking book Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, published by MIT Press in 1997. Giard’s stated mission was to define the literary history and cultural identity of gays and lesbians for the mainstream of American society, which perceived them as disparate, marginal individuals possessing neither. In all, he photographed more than 600 writers. (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digital
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
CreateSpace Store: https://www.createspace.com/4910282
Amazon (Paperback): http://www.amazon.com/dp/1500563323/?tag=e
Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MZG0VHY/?tag=e
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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