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Coming Unbuttoned Paperback – June 11, 2016
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About Coming Unbuttoned: "Broughton writes with disarming frankness about his 80 years as an artist and as a human being seeking wholeness." - Kirkus Reviews About James Broughton: (from the documentary film Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton) "James Broughton was a trickster...James was one of the major poetic voices of gay liberation. And he did it by talking about ecstasy and joy." - Armistead Maupin (author, Tales of the City) "He was probably the most flirtatious man I've ever met." - Pauline Kael, author of I Lost It at the Movies "James will continually be rediscovered as this golden secret of West Coast bohemia. He was an outsider's outsider, under the Underground." - Neeli Cherkowski "He was so pioneering in being playful." - Keith Hennessy (artist, director of Circo Zero) "I see him in the visionary tradition of Blake, Whitman, Ginsberg. But where Whitman alludes to the pleasures of the flesh, Broughton was someone who lived them." - Don Kilhefner, founder of the Gay Liberation Front, Los Angeles
About the Author
James Broughton (1913-1999) was a beloved and seminal figure of the San Francisco Renaissance. His 1967 prizewinning film The Bed shocked and delighted audiences with its playful and honest sexuality. He is the author of nearly two dozen works of poetry and prose; and nearly two dozen short films. He taught at the San Francisco Art Institute from 1968 to 1982.
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James Richard Broughton (1913 – 1999), though widely travelled, spent most of his life in, out and around San Francisco. Here he made most of his 23 films, wrote many of his 21 books, and set type for his and Kermit Sheets ‘ Centaur Press.
It was in San Francisco, while in his earliest teens, that Broughton, caught playing dress-up in his mother’s gowns and jewelry, was sent off to military school in Marin County, where he experienced his sexual awakening, recounted in significantly more explicit detail in this Query edition by virtue of the inclusion of a previously expurgated draft chapter.
Also set in San Francisco and also new to this edition is an expanded chapter describing Broughton’s mid-1940s collaboration with Sidney Peterson on Broughton’s first foray into cinema, the film “The Potted Psalm,” evocatively set in Laurel Hill Cemetery even as the graves were being removed to make way for a shopping center (drawn to ruins, Broughton would film “The Pleasure Garden” in the devastated remains of London’s Crystal Palace seven years later).
But curious as the back stories of his artistic endeavors are, the core appeal of “Coming Unbuttoned” is the gossip, and there’s plenty of it.
Broughton seems to have rubbed elbows (and /or other bits and parts) with a boggling range of fascinating personalities. He fathered a child with film critic Pauline Kael, dropped acid with Alan Watts, participated in the Bay Area literary salons of poets Robert Duncan and Kenneth Rexroth (“his demeanor was that of a crotchety cactus”), pub crawled with Dylan Thomas, consorted in Paris with Brancusi, Cocteau, Genet and Giacometti, met Alice B. Toklas (“wearing a hat the size of a parasol”) at the premiere of “ Four Saints in Three Acts,” discussed publishing the diaries of Anais Nin (“she visited them regularly in the vault of the Bank of America in San Francisco”), and hung out at Robinson Jeffers’ Tor House in Carmel … to name but a few of his celebrated companions.
“Coming Unbuttoned” abounds in anecdotes and apercus. And Broughton proves himself a charming, frolicsome raconteur - perhaps taking after his father, a man whose wife somewhat grudgingly remarked "could charm the pants off a snake."
Thomas Tavis: Librarian-at-Large, San Francisco, California
Nevertheless, it is a fascinating read, spiced liberally with sex--- and there's lots of name-dropping. The impression I got from "Big Joy," the 2014 Broughton biopic, was that he was largely heterosexual until he was seduced by Joel Singer, the (much younger) love of his late life. Right or wrong, that is certainly not the story he tells in this memoir. Here we learn that he was a sexually active sissy from an early age, and that he continued his pansexual flirtations all his life-- at least until he met Singer. An excellent companion volume to Broughton's poems, this re-issue is also a valuable resource for anyone interested in 20th century poetry, in Queer Studies, in Radical Faeries, and in San Francisco history.
When his mother died, he expected to feel relief, but was "surprised at my belated sympathy for this denunciatory parent who now appeared so feeble and deluded," and who continued to represent one part of his internal struggle. He married, a prevailing "cure" for homosexuality, and tried to make a semi-straight life with his wife, also an artist, and their children. In 1967, his film, "The Bed," became a sensation, visually representing Broughton's self-description as a "pansexual androgyne," with a wild array of people making merry use of a bed in a lovely field. Broughton continued to write poetry, made 10 films in 10 years, taught film making at a local college, raised children, met and may have slept with everyone who was anyone, adopted Jungian psychology and the Zen teachings and the LSD of his close friend Alas Watts - and nevertheless, found himself impotent and miserable, the dissonance of competing drumbeats unbearable. Then, unexpectedly, at age 61 years, Hermes again visits, this time as a real life man. Broughton will find happiness, peace and acceptance with this much younger man, with whom he spent the last quarter century of his life. "I could become fully my own kind of man, giving in as well as cutting loose."
Broughton's memoir - his life time extended through most of the twentieth century - is an important documentation of one man's acceptance of his sexuality, of one man's process of creativity, of one man's rejecting conformity and repression to embrace his own "weirdness." Needless to say, his life philosophy - "adventure, not predicament" - left many of the people around him in uncomfortable predicaments, and it was difficult for this reader not to feel some pain for the collateral damage they must have experienced. His style is mostly a straightforward narrative, but he devolves into seemingly endless lists of the famous people whose paths he crossed - Robinson Jeffers, Maya Deren, Pauline Kael, Madeline Gleason, Imogen Cunningham, Robert Duncan - and is annoyingly gossipy, catty, and even downright mean at times. From play writer for the WPA, to the giddy poetry of a Radical Fairy, to his contributions in film making and of teaching film making, this story is of historical interest. I recommend having the internet on hand while reading in order to see excerpts of the films and to explore the lives of the many, many persons named. Ultimately, Broughton's memoir is a bittersweet story of struggling against bullies and repression, and against despair and depression, a story of a man who never ceases to work, explore, create and ultimately finds not only love, but harmony with the times in which he lived. It is a message of hope and promise.
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he completed a few years later.Read more