The Beat Hotel

The Beat Hotel

A drawing of William S. Burroughs by Elliot Rudie as seen in THE BEAT HOTEL, a film by Alan Govenar. A First Run Features release.

The Beat Hotel (2011/2012)

Opened: 03/30/2012 Limited

Cinema Village...03/30/2012 - 04/13/201215 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

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Genre: Biographical Documentary

Rated: Unrated


The Beat Hotel, a new film by Alan Govenar, goes deep into the legacy of the American Beats in Paris during the heady years between 1957 and 1963, when Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky and Gregory Corso fled the obscenity trials in the United States surrounding the publication of Ginsberg's poem Howl. They took refuge in a cheap noname hotel they had heard about at 9, Rue Git le Coeur and were soon joined by William Burroughs, Ian Somerville, Brion Gysin, and others from England and elsewhere in Europe, seeking out the "freedom" that the Latin Quarter of Paris might provide.

The Beat Hotel, as it came to be called, was a sanctuary of creativity, but was also, as British photographer Harold Chapman recalls, "an entire community of complete oddballs, bizarre, strange people, poets, writers, artists, musicians, pimps, prostitutes, policemen, and everybody you could imagine." And in this environment, Burroughs finished his controversial book Naked Lunch; Ian Somerville and Brion Gysin invented the Dream Machine; Corso wrote some of his greatest poems; and Harold Norse, in his own cut-up experiments, wrote the novella, aptly called The Beat Hotel.

The film tracks down Harold Chapman in the small seaside town of Deal in Kent, England. Chapman's photographs are iconic of a time and place when Ginsberg, Orlovsky, Corso, Burroughs, Gysin, Somerville and Norse were just beginning to establish themselves on the international scene. Chapman lived in the attic of the hotel, and according to Ginsberg "didn't say a word for two years" because he wanted to be "invisible" and to document the scene as it actually happened.

In the film, Chapman's photographs and stylized dramatic recreations of his stories meld with the recollections of Elliot Rudie, a Scottish artist, whose drawings of his time in the hotel offer a poignant and sometimes humorous counterpoint. The memories of Chapman and Rudie interweave with the insights of French artist Jean-Jacques Lebel, author Barry Miles, Danish filmmaker Lars Movin, and the first hand accounts of Oliver Harris, Regina Weinrich, Patrick Amie, Eddie Woods, and 95 year old George Whitman, among others, to evoke a portrait of Ginsberg, Burroughs, Corso and the oddities of the Beat Hotel that is at once unexpected and revealing.

About Notable Beat Hotel Residents

William S. Burroughs (1914-1997) American novelist, essayist, poet, performance artist and the author of Naked Lunch, which was assembled at the Beat Hotel, among many other novels, novellas, poems and collections of essays. Burroughs moved to the Beat Hotel around 1959. Burroughs was one of the oldest members of the Beat generation. Burroughs met Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac in New York City while the latter two were attending Columbia University.

Harold Chapman (1927) British photographer. Chapman documented life in the Beat Hotel in photographs and appears in the film. Chapman moved to the Beat Hotel around 1956 and lived there until 1962. He began to be successful as a photographer while living in the Beat Hotel.

Gregory Corso (1930-2001) American poet, author of the poem Bomb. Corso grew up in New York City. Corso met Ginsberg at the Pony Stable Inn in Greenwich Village around 1951 and moved to Paris around the time Ginsberg did. He was one of the youngest members of the Beat generation.

Allen Ginsberg (1926-1197) American poet, author of the poem Howl and Kaddish, among other works. Was one of the first Beat writers to move into the Beat Hotel along with partner Peter Orlovsky in 1957. Ginsberg grew up in New Jersey and attended Columbia University, where he met Jack Kerouac, Lucien Carr and William Burroughs.

Brion Gysin (1916-1986) British painter, writer, sound poet and performing artist. Gysin developed the "cut-up" technique and invented the Dreamachine with Ian Sommerville at the Beat Hotel. Gysin met Burroughs in Tangiers in the mid-50s and moved to the Beat Hotel around 1958.

Harold Norse (1916-2009) American writer. Norse wrote the cut-up novel Beat Hotel while living in the Beat Hotel in 1960. He lived in the hotel from 1959 to 1963.

Peter Orlovsky (1933-2010) American poet. Was one of the first Beat writers to move into the Beat Hotel along with partner Allen Ginsberg in 1957. Orlovsky grew up in New York City. Orlovsky met Ginsberg while living in San Francisco in 1954 and began writing poetry at Ginsberg's urging while living in the Beat Hotel in 1957.

Elliot Rudie (1939) Scottish artist. Rudie started living in the Beat Hotel in 1961. Rudie produced drawings of members of the Beat writers and artists while living in the hotel.

Filmmaker Biographies

Alan Govenar (director) is a writer, folklorist, photographer, and filmmaker. He is president of Documentary Arts. Govenar has a B.A. with distinction in American folklore from Ohio State University, an M.A. in folklore and anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin, and a Ph.D. in arts and humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas. He is the author of eighteen books, including Texas Blues: The Rise of a Contemporary Sound, Stompin' at the Savoy: The Story of Norma Miller, Extraordinary Ordinary People: Five American Masters of Traditional Arts, Untold Glory: African Americans in Pursuit of Freedom, Opportunity and Achievement, Stoney Knows How: Life as a Sideshow Tattoo Artist, Deep Ellum and Central Track: Where the Black and White Worlds of Dallas Converged, Portraits of Community, and The Early Years of Rhythm and Blues. His book Osceola: Memories of a Sharecropper's Daughter won First Place in the New York Book Festival (children's non-fiction), a Boston Globe-Hornbook Honor; and an Orbis Pictus Honor from the National Council of Teachers of English. The off-Broadway premiere of his musical Blind Lemon Blues, co-created with Akin Babatunde received rave reviews in The New York Times and Variety.

Govenar's film, Stoney Knows How, based on his book by the same title about Old School tattoo artist Leonard St. Clair, was shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, and was selected as an Outstanding Film of the Year by the London Film Festival. Govenar has also produced and directed numerous films in association with NOVA, La Sept/ARTE, and PBS for broadcast and educational distribution, including The Voyage of Doom, Le Naufrage de la Belle, The Devil's Swing, Texas Style, Everything But the Squeak, The Human Volcano, The Hard Ride, Dreams of Conquest, and Little Willie Eason and His Talking Gospel Guitar.

Alan Hatchett (Editor) has worked with Documentary Arts since 2003 as associate producer, technical director, editor and multimedia artist. Most recently he edited the feature film Master Qi and the Monkey King and the video content for the Jasper, Texas: The Community Photographs of Alonzo Jordan installation at the ICP. Alan is also a founding member of the Dallas Makerspace, where we created an interactive art installation for the TEDxSMU talks in 2010.

Documentary Arts (Producer) was founded in 1985 as a non-profit organization to create and preserve new perspectives on the arts, culture, and history. Over the years, Documentary Arts has produced more than two-dozen non-fiction films, ranging from Cigarette Blues (San Francisco Film Festival Judge's Award), Texas Style (American Film and Video Festival Blue Ribbon and CINE Golden Eagle), Black on White/White and Black (Michael A. Wilder Silver Citation Award) to Le Naufrage de la Belle (Le Prix Special du Jury, 16th Festival International de l'Emission Scientifique de Television Palamares, France) and Voyage of Doom (NOVA), The Devil's Swing (Finalist, USA Film Festival) and Jaber (6th Recontres Autor de L'Art Singulier, Musee d'Art Moderne, Nice, France). To find out more about Documentary Arts' films, videos, radio series for national broadcast, touring exhibitions, publications, and interactive media, see