DVD Review - Big Joy

James Broughton (left) and life partner Joel Singer
Courtesy: Kent State University Special Collections
The subtitle of this documentary is The Adventures of James Broughton. Broughton didn't necessarily have many adventures. He's a man who lived a relatively simple life. He did travel to Europe, but a more accurate subtitle might be The Art and Amor of James Broughton for this film is more an examination of the man's creative works as well as his various sexual partners, male and female. The reason he's the subject of examination is because Broughton is considered a pioneer in the poetry and film-making world, beyond his fusion of the two. A lot of the things Broughton created in the 1940s and 50s in San Francisco led to or inspired the Beat movement of the 60s, and perhaps influenced queer writing and cinema long after that.

Produced and directed by Stephen Silha and Eric Slade, this movie charts a lot of Broughton's published or printed materials, including major life events that shaped who he was. Broughton has since passed away, but the filmmakers were able to include interviews of him, one final interview in particular in 1998, shortly before he died in 1999.

They also run through many, if not all of Broughton's films, which were mainly short films, most around 10 minutes or so. Excerpts are replayed, but for Broughton's poetry, published in books, the filmmakers enlist someone to read those poems either in voice-over or on screen.

Silha and Slade conduct a host of new interviews of fellow poets and writers to comment on Broughton's life and works or merely to recite those poems. In addition, Silha and Slade also talk to Broughton's ex-wife and his eldest son. Both of whom love Broughton, but both are not all together happy with some of Broughton's decisions.

For Broughton's son, there was some unhappiness with perceived neglect from his father. For Broughton's ex-wife, she had to deal with him cheating on her. Broughton had an affair with a male student 40 years younger than him, while still married to his wife. Broughton was 66 and his lover was 26.

The aging artist got married and tried to pursue a straight relationship. Unfortunately, it didn't last. His closeted narrative is a very familiar one, but the filmmakers focus more on how Broughton's work was affected after the affair, which pushed him to be more open about his sexuality.

There seems to be a direct correlation as to why Broughton's work became more sexually free, as well as to why his work continually embraced the theme of joy after his affair or rather his "coming out." By the 1960s, Broughton was already pushing the envelope and doing pieces that were darn-near pornographic, but it wasn't until after April 1975, the time of his affair, that the blatant homoeroticism came flooding in his writing and movies.

It wasn't as if all his works were about sex. Yes, sex was a key component, but an even bigger component was love and not just for same-sex relationships. He might have been one of the original hippies, but like the waters of the oceans, often depicted here, what Broughton envisioned went a whole lot deeper.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains full-frontal nudity and explicit language..
Running Time: 1 hr. and 22 mins.
Available on DVD and VOD via Netflix, Amazon and various outlets.
For information on its theatrical screenings for the summer 2014, go to http://www.bigjoy.org/

James Broughton (right)
Courtesy: Robert Haller

Still from James Broughton's film 'The Bed'
Courtesy: Frisky Divinity Productions
James Broughton photographed by Joel Singer
Courtesy: James Broughton Estate


  1. Love your last paragraph especially. True and beautifully put… about a beautiful film.


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