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Off-Road Vehicles

Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac
Road Warriors: Beat heroes Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac take a break from the highway to hang out in San Francisco in the late 1940s.

Photo by Carolyn Cassady

SC celebrates the Beat era in film, word, music and art

By Karen Reardanz

ONCE UPON A TIME it was the American dream. A cool, jazzy counterculture emerging from literature, art and music that pulsed through the core of the big cities--New York, San Francisco, Chicago. The beatnik style reshaped American life like nothing that had preceded it. Young people everywhere were donning black and taking their coffee strong, ready to turn bourgeois thinking and living on its square head.

A reaction to the world wars, the emerging Cold War and the disillusionment with burgeoning technology, the Beats were a generation of artists on the outskirts of conventionality who had something to say and wanted the whole world to hear it. Leaving a mangled trail of controversy while shocking the pants off middle America, the Beats found themselves on the road, hitchhiking their way into a solid niche of cultural history.

The influence of beat writers is especially prevalent. Who hasn't had the urge to take on the endless stretch of American highway like Jack Kerouac or felt the screaming frustration of Allen Ginsberg's Howl? It took poetry out of meter and rhyme and gave it rhythm, turning minds and opening ears with its bopping, lyrical attitude.

The beat goes on today with American writers, poets, performers and artists borrowing from the movement, reworking it into a style and framework all their own.

Santa Cruz is now ready to salute the era and its cultural impact. The Nickelodeon's Jim Schwenterley was inspired to action after seeing the Beat exhibit at the Whitney Museum in New York. He talked with folks from the Museum of Art and History and Bookshop Santa Cruz and, voilá, Beat Week was born. The three local institutions are banding together for seven days and nights of movies, authors, art and music from and about the time when things were cool.

The cinematic portion of Beat Week encompasses a plethora of films that show the Beat generation in all its unabashed glory. A compilation of mostly documentaries, with one fictional film and a collection of experimental Beat shorts, the movies--part of the Whitney's Beat exhibit--are an accumulation chosen by Schwenterley as a representative of the period. "There's not a limitless supply of movies from this era," he says.

These include one of the most critically applauded underground films of the time--Robert Frank's Pull My Daisy, narrated by Jack Kerouac and featuring Allen Ginsberg, Corso and others cavorting about. Other documentaries include Janet Foreman's The Beat Generation: An American Dream; Kerouac by John Antonelli; The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg, Jerry Aronson's sometimes chilling, sometimes humorous look into the life of one of America's most influential poetic writers; and Burroughs, a take on the life of William S. Burroughs.

The film week also features Jack O'Connell's dramatic movie, Greenwich Village Lifestyle, all about Beat life--complete with bona fide backdrops, drugs and poetic versions of the existential existence. The film series is fleshed out by experimental shorts from Bruce Conner, Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger, Larry Jordon and James Broughton.

The whole hepcat week culminates with an evening of words and music at the McPherson Center. With local jazz legend Don McCaslin and Warmth providing the musical accompaniment, writers James Houston and Morton Marcus will read choice Beat prose, and Simon Kelly will perform his Channeling the Spirit of the Lord Buckley and The Naz. A night that promises to recapture the spirit of the era, it is complete with a Beatnik menu from the Cooper St. Cafe. Beat-style dress is encouraged, and a hat will be passed around for the musicians at this free event.

AMH plays its role in the Beat Week festivities by hosting a one-week exhibit of works by Beat artists. Not meant to be a comprehensive collection, the 12-piece collection was accumulated by curator Kathleen Moodie, who foraged pieces from local beat collections, including those of Linda Ellis, Lee Quarnstrom and a museum staff member's mother, who shall remain nameless. "This exhibit has a local feel to it. It's from local collections, and all the artists have some kind of connection to the Santa Cruz area," Moodie says.

Museum of Art and History
Beat Week: paintings, photographs and assemblage from the Beat Generation, including works by Arthur Monroe, George Herms and Wallace Berman. Starts Sat., ends Oct. 12.
705 Front St, Santa Cruz (429-1964).

The Beat Generation: An American Dream; Experimental Beat Shorts -- Sat-Sun 2:30, 4:55.
Kerouac; Experimental Beat Shorts -- Mon-Tue 4:55.
The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg; Pull My Daisy -- Wed-Thu 4:55.
210 Lincoln St., Santa Cruz (426-7500)

Bookshop Santa Cruz
Morton Marcus: The Santa Cruz poet reads from his favorite Beat poets. Sat. 7:30pm. Free.
Open Mike: Read from your favorite Beat writers at this first-come open mike. Limited to 25 people. Mon.7:30pm. Free.
Jim Houston: Renowned author reads from the work of Jack Kerouac and recalls living in '50s California. Tue. 7:30pm. Free.
Diane Di Prima: The most prominent woman of the Beat generation reads form her work. Wed. 7:30pm. Free.
1520 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz (423-0990)

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From the October 3-9, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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