"The Bed" in Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton

Given the subject matter, this documentary about the poet and groundbreaking avant-garde filmmaker James Broughton is surprisingly prosaic and straightforward. Still, it provides a useful overview of his life and work, and it’s far more persuasive than most artist profiles in arguing the two were continuous. The interviewees—including Broughton’s peers and lovers and (in archival interviews) Broughton himself—offer vivid descriptions of bohemian San Francisco from the late 1940s to the early ’90s, and one can identify immediately in the film clips and readings how he took inspiration from various trends and movements that flourished there: modernist poetry, occult spirituality, free love, gay rights. Directors Stephen Silha and Eric Slade portray Broughton as an old-fashioned romantic who sought transcendental beauty in the postwar world and on occasion managed to find it.