The American Beats Find A Retreat in Paris
During the years from 1957 to 1963, a clique of expatriot American poets, novelists, musicians, dancers and other very creative people lived in a small, run down, dirty and extremely cheap hotel located at 9, Rue Git Le Coeur on the Left Bank in the heart of avant garde Paris.
Most notable among the hotel's residents were Alan Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Gregory Corso and William Burroughs, whose extreme lifestyle and creativity are brilliantly chronicled in Alan Govenar's documentary, The Beat Hotel.
Chronicling the Beats
The filmmaker uses rare archival footage and a cache of photographs (many of which shot through the lens of British photographer Harold Chapman, who lived with and chronicled the 'Beat Hotel' community) to recreate the hotel's freewheeling ambience. And Grovenar presents annecdotal evidence through on camera interviews with Scottish artist Elliot Rudie and some of the others who were denizens of the 'Beat Hotel' during those heady and hedonistic years when the legendary beat giants who lived there were creating their seminal works.
Ginsberg and the others had fled the United States, where repressive laws and censorship had pinpointed Ginsberg and his Howl as the focus of an obsenity trial. France was much more tolerant, and writers and artists could publish their works without fear of censorship or repercussions.
One after another, creative artists who'd left the United States heard about and flocked to the Parisian hotel. The rooms were tiny and services were minimal to nonexistant, but the place was managed by a woman who revered creative people, was tolerant of their freewheeling lifestyle and was patient about the payment of rent, and looked after the entire brood as though she were the den mother of a troop of creatively unconventional boy scouts.
Circumstances at 'The Beat Hotel' were exactly right to foment and support an outburst of creativity. This was the birthplace of Burrough's Naked Lunch and Corso's Bomb, and Brion Gysin's amazing hallucination-inducing Dream Machine, among other memorable works.
A View From the Present
The documentary also includes a visit to the hotel as it is today. Completely refurbished and renamed, it has become the well-appointed and charming boutique 'relais,' Le Relais de Vieux Paris, and shows few signs of of its unkempt but culturally endowed past -- except for a small plaque that marks it as 'The Beat Hotel.'
It's clear that the community and tremondous collective of creativity that was fostered by 'The Beat Hotel' is a thing of the past, but this wonderful documentary allows us to dwell within it for just a little while. The visit is a real treat.