COLUMN THIRTY-TWO, APRIL 1, 1998
(Copyright © 1998 Al Aronowitz)
SEVEN MOVIES TO SEE IF YOU'RE INTO POETRY
[Ralph Haselmann Jr. was born on October 4, 1965 and lives in Central Western New Jersey. He received a BFA from Mason Gross School Of Arts at Rutgers (New Brunswick NJ) in 1990. Much in the style of the late Wally Berman, Ralph has edited and published his own the monthly, Lucid Moon, a poetry and cartoon magazine, since January 1997. Lucid Moon has now grown to 200 pages. Ralph's aim is "to get as much poetry out there as cheaply as possible, with a sense of humour and playfulness and fun." Ralph was named Editor Of The Year by Cedar Hill Review, which called him "the hardest working editor" in the small press.
In addition to having been published in more than 20 small magazines since 1944, Ralph has had eight broadsides in print. He has three books in the pipeline for 1998 and 1999. Wounded Heart, Naked Soul is due in the spring of 1998 and is about the author's dealing with the deaths of his friend, Mark Waser, his beloved grandfather, Theodore R. Mackoul, and actor River Phoenix. The book also deals with the author's coming to terms with his bisexuality. Scattershot Haze is due in the fall 1998 and is a tribute to the beat poets. Eyes and Imagination is the third book due in 1999 and is inspired by the works of Arthur Rimbaud and Jim Morrison. All three will be published by Black Spring Review in New York. Ralph also has a cartoon book for sale called So You Want To Be A Cartoonist?! It contains work from his early school days.]
1. The Life And Times Of Allen Ginsberg (1997)---Jerry Aaronson's recently completed documentary is a terrific look at the life of Allen Ginsberg. Important historical footage like the debut reading of Howl and the 1968 Democratic National Convention (where Allen was almost beaten by a Chicago cop) make this a must see. We also get glimpses of William S. Burroughs, Abbie Hoffman and Timothy Leary. Was recently shown on American Masters on PBS, this may be hard to find at your local video store.
2. Total Eclipse (1995)---A beautifully filmed and alternatingly tragic and humorous account of Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine's life in 19th century France and Belgium. River Phoenix and John Malkovich were supposed to star, but after River died the role went to Leonardo DiCaprio and David Thewlis. Malkovich is too creepy and would have been wrong for the part. David Thewlis is perfect as Verlaine, and Leonardo is superb and impishly charming. Not enough poetry is read or voiced-over however. One scene where Arthur is writing A Season In Hell in the barn would have been perfect with the opening voiceover of the beginning poem in A Season In Hell, where Rimbaud says "my life is a banquet..." My favorite film of Leonardo's, just as My Own Private Idaho is my favorite film of River's. It would have been interesting to see how River would have approached the role.
3. The Basketball Diaries (1994)---A riveting account of the early school life of New York poet Jim Carroll, a contemporary of Jim Morrison. Although the action in the book takes place in the 1960s, the movie looks modern. The lead character, played by Leonardo DiCaprio again, plays basketball and writes poetry. The film has a fair amount of poetry in voiceovers, but could have used more. A gritty account of Jim's descent into drug addiction, with an ultimately uplifting ending.
4. The Doors (1991) A great-looking and sounding production, but director Oliver Stone messes with the facts (the Buick TV commercial using Light My Fire was never made, and the duck scene never occurred). Starring Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison, he looks and sounds incredibly like Morrison, even doing some of the vocals in the concert performances. A great amount of poetry is read, voiced-over, unlike the Total Eclipse movie about Rimbaud, who greatly influenced Morrison. You get a real feel for the 1960s, but the script is really a Cliff Notes of the band's career and it lapses into the old alcohol downhill slide look at a performer's career. Still, some fine visuals and a sly wit make this enjoyable, along with some great music. [THE BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST'S NOTE: I hated this film, at least the part for which I could stay awake.]
5. My Own Private Idaho (1991)---My favorite film, starring River Phoenix, with Keanu Reeves. This film is not about poetry, it's about gay male hustlers, but River's performance is sheer poetry. Check out the scene where he is dazed and confused and is groping around on the ground picking up pieces of glass, or the campfire scene where he confesses his love for his friend Keanu. River wrote and directed that scene, and it comes from the heart. I have my videotape copy cued up to the campfire scene, and I play it often before bed like a prayer. Director Gus Van Zandt does an inventive, imaginative job of directing and utilizes many indelible scenes. This movie also has a sly wit and I find something new in it every time I see it. I can't recommend it enough.
6. Barfly (1987)---A hilarious and gritty look at the early seedy life of beat poet Charles Bukowski, starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway. This is Charles' life, picking bar fights, betting on the racetrack, drinking and getting laid! Some funny scenes, like when the obnoxious couple are making out at a red light and Charles bumps them with his car into the middle of the intersection. "They need a taste of death!" he says. Doesn't have enough of Bukowski's poetry, but a good look at his life.
7. Heartbeat (1980)---A rollicking, jazzy, breezy account of the lives of Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassidy and Neal's wife, starring Nick Nolte, John Heard, Ray Sharkey and Sissy Spacek. Ray plays a Ginsberg type. The movie is true for the most part, but fictionalizes the Ginsberg character. A fun look at the jazzy Beat scene. The movie doesn't focus on the poetry or writings enough, but shows Jack as he is writing On The Road and shows key scenes from his life, however glossing over one element of his life, his bisexuality. In a montage scene, Kerouac is shown taking turns with Neal's wife, but they never show Jack and Neal going up together to the attic room, as surely they slept together. Overall, though, fun to watch. ##
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