I love documentaries. Documentaries educate, inspire, and arouse our senses. This film is no different. James Broughton was a man who was saved and liberated by film. He even claims it himself in the film. Big Joy was a fun nickname bestowed upon him in his later years that perfectly sums up what was important to him: joy. He had a knack for finding it, obtaining it and spreading it. Broughton was a pioneer for the gay rights movement, liberal arts movement and a precursor to the beat movement that started it all.
The film covers Broughton’s life from childhood to the geriatric age. As a young boy, he was constantly at battle with his over-bearing, unhappy mother. This introduced depression to him at a very young age. Later, he found a camera and discovered film. The documentary follows him through his young adult years of making short films in California, having to hide his homosexuality because of the times and living abroad for a few years, where his films were much more appreciated. The bulk of the film, however, covers the last decade or so of his work. It wasn’t until he came out, fully, in his sixties that he was able to experience the true joy he always sought. He had spent many years being married to a woman and raising children and never felt alive.
Through his life he was also a published poet, playwright, and memoirist. The interviews of those who knew him are interspersed with clips from his films or readings from his poetry. Broughton is also interviewed, looking very old and tired, but still full of joy. Although it is fascinating to learn how one man potentially changed history, it is also clear that this film will not reach as many people as it deserves. With no big names in the film, this film will be cemented as a cult item, with only those who knew of him seeking this title. Also, the testimonials and cuts of Broughton’s film are so random at times, it is hard to follow. Perhaps I’m just a little too left-brain to really delve into the world they created here.
By far, the most enjoyable parts of the film come when excerpts of Broughton’s films are shown to us. There was such simplicity and beauty in his films that just doesn’t exist today. His message to the viewers was obvious, “follow your own weird” as he would say. He stated that he was born with three things: intuition, articulation and merriment. It becomes crystal clear that living by those three guides and finding yourself, whether it be weird or not is the only way to truly live your life. This film may very well serve as a tool to help someone realize their full potential or who they really are. Others may just walk away smiling and spreading that joy to others for the day. Either way, it’s a success. Although this film may be hard to find, if it comes your way soon, reach for it.
I give Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton 3 “beds” out of 5
by Angela Davis