Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton

Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton

Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton

directed by Stephen Silha and Eric Slade

Frisky Divinity Productions

Back in the modern art-inspired post-war era, you could become a big-shot film maker or architect without making more than few projects, so long as they were weird enough and artsy enough. James Broughton came to flower in the North Beach San Francisco scene of jazz and poetry and unapproved sexuality. He and his mother didn’t get along, and according to the Jungians of the day, that was a sure ticket to the bath house. Broughton became a poet and film maker, although none of his early projects would get any exposure outside of the local beatnik coffee house scene. But his material went farther overseas; Jean Cocteau congratulated him on being “The first American to make a French Film.” His credibility continued to rise when he impregnated Pauline Kael, but he turned down the film world and retreated to poetry, married a woman to knock the gay out of his system, and later ditched her for a man half his age. It’s sort of a gay Harold and Maude.

Broughton is the sort of guy who looks and photographs like a dream no matter how old he gets, and in this riveting documentary he expounds on art and film and sex and is generally quite full of himself. But he left a trail of unhappiness behind: his ex-wife Susan was devastated, his son Orion squirms uncomfortably on camera, and his two daughters wanted nothing to do with this project. We do get a good look at the substance of his films; the most loving treatment goes to “The Bed” with its Monty Python-ish “Bed on a Rampage” scene and its extensive full frontal nudity. Fun fact: no one would print the film except a porno producer, and even he had to do it after hours. Now that’s avant garde! As we delve deeper into Broughton life, his sexuality overtakes his art in the narrative, and the main thrust of “Big Joy” is an insider’s look at the earliest days of the gay revolution. Charming and off color, this is the perfect film fest view. I can’t imagine this ever showing up on Cablevision.

This movie is part of the 2013 Florida Film Festival. More information may be found at

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