The Beat Hotel
by LaSonya Thompson
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Alan Govenar’s new film, The Beat Hotel, pays tribute to artists that were occupiers of the resistance movement during the 1950’s and 1960’s. The dwelling place for these artists was located in Paris, France, and was deemed a safe space for the eccentric, naïve, brilliant, misunderstood, and confused mind. This no-name hotel had a seedy reputation due to the drugs, uninhibited sex, gypsies, and vagabonds that were commonplace inside.
The resident artists were affectionately known as the Beat Generation, in part because they rebelled against American suburbia, censorship, war, and political hypocrisy through their art form. Some artists were optimistic about the future while other artists appeared heavily burdened by the past. Respected and cherished names associated with the Beat Generation include Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Gregory Corso, William Burroughs, Ian Somerville, and Brion Gysin.
Allen Ginsberg fled his obscenity trial in the United States and landed in Paris. William Burroughs authored Naked Lunch. Ian Somerville and Brion Gysin invented the Dream Machine. Harold Chapman, a British photographer and Scottish artist, Elliot Rudie, were both in Paris capturing the Beat Generation in action.
In Paris, the artists were free to move and think. Besides, why would the French and European officials expend resources on censoring young writers, photographers and poets when they had enough societal troubles of their own? Truth be told, certain police met their mistresses at this hotel and/or enjoyed a free meal by the hotel owner, Madame Rachou. No harm done, right!
Madame Rachou was the gatekeeper of the hotel and the artists amused her. Nevertheless, these artists found their way around Paris holding odd jobs while growing and maturing in their craft and talent. The hotel rental rates were cheap enough to allow some artists to have enough money to dine at different restaurants and socialize with the locals. Despite the repute, the hotel was a place to exchange impactful and enduring ideas. When the hotel is sold to new owners, a chapter in history concludes, but a seed of unrest is planted for the next generation.
Alan Govenar, director of The Beat Hotel, is a writer, folklorist, and photographer, and also the president of Documentary Arts, a non-profit organization that creates and preserves new perspectives on the arts, culture, and history. Govenar has also produced and directed numerous films in association with NOVA and PBS for broadcast and educational distribution. With that said, the first-hand accounts of what happened in The Beat Hotel appear genuine but the cinematic portrayal of those events were lackluster, almost sterile, as if Govenar were playing it safe for another NOVA/PBS audience.
LaSonya Thompson resides in New York City and serves the independent film and media community.
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