Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Film Review: The Beat Hotel

Charles A. Smith

In 1957, the Beat Hotel in Paris became a haven for artists like Allen Ginsberg, the now esteemed writer of the poem Howl, which was once considered obscene to some. In search of a respite from the strict censorship of America in the 1950's, Ginsberg found a small, cheap (and dirty) hotel, which is now famous for the refuge that it offered to its patrons. In Alan Govenar's exquisite film The Beat Hotel, viewers are treated to an amazing historical journey that captures the heart and purpose of a place that allowed the freedom of expression, which has resulted in some of the greatest works of our time. 

Amazingly, Ginsberg was an "occupant" at the Beat at the same time as other writers who were destined for fame like Peter Orlovsky, Gregory Corso and William Seward Burroughs, who completed his work "Naked Lunch" there. The Beat not only offered them the luxury of sharing life and their art together, it also had an atmosphere of non-judgment that freed their minds to such a degree that they could become the great artists that we now respect them as being. 

The Beat was run by Madame Rachou, who thought that artists should be cared for, and who went out of her way to bring them together in tolerance and permissiveness, freeing them creatively. The Beat continued to be a haven for artists through the early 1960s, and has produced what are known as Beat artists and the Beat generation. It is fascinating to hear firsthand accounts from the artists themselves about the Beat and life inside of its walls. The documentary is insightful about many different art forms:  poetry, writing, photography, and painting. There are brilliant glimpses of what made the Beat artists great, and the methods they used to come up with their various styles. This is a vividly exquisite display of important cultural history about Beat generation art. It is very well done and highly entertaining, and includes shots from British photographer Harold Chapman who also lived there. 

The Beat Hotel is rich in history and may be the best documented film of our time on the subject. Govenar could not have done a more impeccable job.

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