Big Joy Celebrates the Late James Broughton With His Clear Voice


American filmmaker and poet James Broughton recorded odes to life on Earth. On March 22 and 23, Anthology Film Archive presents programs of Broughton’s film work that include reverent and ridiculous celebrations of physical love, like 1968’s ebullient The Bed, as well as presentations of spirits meeting in physical form, such as 1977’s Song of the Godbody, made with his soulmate, Joel Singer.

These repertory screenings celebrate the late Broughton’s centennial, as does the weekend-long run of the new documentary Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton.

The film (co-directed by Stephen Silha, Eric Slade, and Dawn Logsdon) narrates Broughton’s existence in chronological fashion, from his Modesto, California, birth through 85 largely California-based years of romance, cultural revolutions, and efforts to save his own life through making art.

This new film’s form feels familiar to other feature-length docs about artists: Archival footage matches testimonials from friends and loved ones to create a critical biography that relates Broughton’s life and work through a string of psychoanalytic causes and effects. Yet even at its most on-the-nose, Big Joy serves the greater good of introducing viewers to its subject, whose voice rings clear throughout.

In addition to presenting good introductory clips of his 23 films, Big Joy‘s filmmakers blend scenes and sounds of people reading aloud selections from Broughton’s rich poetry.

The verses create a small world unto themselves, neither through Whitman-esque paeans nor in limericks, but with something joyfully Broughton’s own.