22 February 2006

Pull my Daisy / Shizzle my Nizzle

The following is a synopsis for Pull my Daisy, which Jonas Mekas called "The first truely beat film." It's copied out of Naked Lens by Jack Sargeant, which is one of the rare books on beat cinema. if Jack reads this please be aware that I'm gonna reword it before I use it in my dissertation. Honest. It's up here so I don't lose it.

God, I hate essays.


Set in an apartment in downtown Manhattan, it opens with an establishing shot; tracking around an empty room. Kerouac’s voice begins the narration which, save for a few short breaks, runs for the length of the film: “Early morning in the universe...”. A woman, whom the narration describes as a painter and the wife of a “railroad brakeman” enters the room. The wife walks to the windows and opens the curtains, letting the light stream in, her young son Pablo enters to eat his breakfast, before rushing off to school. Shortly before they leave for school Alan and Gregory enter, carrying bottles of beer.
Alan and Gregory sit down and begin the discuss poetry, the camera roving back and forth between them, in close up a joint is passed between the two poets. Alan and Gregory begin to argue about Apollinaire, and in a long shot Alan stands up, frustrated with Alan’s argument, and this becomes emphasized by the rhythmic aggression of the narration, juxtaposing the velocity of Alan’s frenetic speech patters (“that’s right/that’s right/that’s right/that’s what I said/ that’s right/that’s right/that’s right” [punctuation Sargeant’s]) with Gregory’s sullen weariness at Alan’s continued dancing movements. At the end of the argument, in established shot-reverse-shot style, Alan states: “The Lower East Side has produced all the strange gum chewing geniuses”, to which Gregory replies, “Ah you make me – I could tell you poems that would make you weep with long hair, goodbye, goodbye…”
The scene is interrupted by the arrival of Milo, as he walks around the apartment the three poets follow him. Flute music plays on the soundtrack, switching from the (supposedly) diagetic sounds produced by Gregory’s flute playing to the extra-diagetic music of Amram’s score, the music serves to emphasize the almost child-like enthusiasm the poets have for the railway worker. Ells them that the Bishop is coming “you guys have gotta act a little better […] no flutes and no nonsense”. A shot from the window looking down into the street depicts the Bishop’s car arriving. The wife goes to welcome the Bishop and his entourage into the apartment while the three poets excitedly anticipate the Bishop’s immediate arrival.
Milo dances around the apartment, a movement which is directly constrained by the apparent stoicism of the Bishop. The Bishop and his family (mother and sister) are introduced and begin to settle down. Gregory begins questioning the Bishop about Buddhism, before rapidly sliding into ‘nonsense’ talk (“goofing […] playing around with words”), apologizing and then asking more serious questions on Buddhism.
With a burst of the jazz soundtrack, Mezz Mcgillicuddy enters the apartment, shaking hands with everybody. Peter begins to talk to the Bishop, asking him “Have you ever played baseball and seen girls with tight dresses?” and then “Is baseball holy?” while swinging an imaginary bat.
The scene fades to an exterior shot, the soundtrack becomes more melancholic, while in long shot the Bishop preaches to a congregation of, predominantly, women and children. As he delivers his sermon an American flag, held by Milo’s wife who is standing at the Bishop’s side, blows over his face (“The American flag is a recurring motif in Robert Frank’s book The Americans, where it was used to simultaneously symbolize both identity and lack of identity; belonging to a national culture and being excluded from it. For many Americans the flag also functions as a visual signifier of their own freedom. The American flag is also a ‘thematic’ of Alfred Leslie’s paintings from the early fifties; ‘abstract’ works such as Spots and Stripes Painting (1952) and Hoboken Oval (1953) are characterized via the repeated use of stripes (both vertical and horizontal) which are visually contrasted with painted areas of circular shapes.” – Sargeant, pg51, 16.). The camera tracks to a medium close-up over the faces of the street congregation, all of whom are speaking, although, crucially, there is no narration at this point in the film.
Cutting back to the apartment the film continues to track across the faces of those around the Bishop (Alan, Gregory, et al). Kerouac’s narration: “The angel of silence hath flown over all their heads”, the narration continues but begins to turn into ‘music’, no longer emphasizing ‘real’ sentences, but ‘pure’ word plays which seek to evoke the spirit of the evening. Not only is the silence of the apartment articulated by Kerouac’s narration, it is also emphasized by the shots of the tightly shut lips of all in the parment, and contrasts the extra-diagetic silence of the animated congregation of the previous exterior scene with its images of speech.
Gregory slumps drunkenly while Milo’s wife berates him for the Beats’ behavior. From the wife’s seated position the camera flows around the room, to the mirrored door of the bathroom; “The Queen of Sheba takes a bath in this bathtub every day”, then across the cooking surfaces, where Kerouac’s narration describes the cockroaches that inhabit the apartment: “cockroaches, cockroaches, coffee cockroaches, stove cockroaches, city cockroaches, spot cockroaches, melted cheese cockroaches, Chaplin cockroaches, peanut butter cockroaches – cockroach cockroach – cockroach of the eyes – cockroach, mirror, boom, bang”. The narrative rap is accomained by the jazz soundtrack, along with a quick-fire montage of images of Alan dancing with gun-fingers pointed like a child playing cowboys. Then, as the rap ends, the film resumes its track around the room. As the bookcase comes into shot the narration states “Jung, Frued, Jung, Reich” as if reading the titles from the bookcase. Returning to long-shot the Bishop states “Strange thoughts you young, uh, people have.” Gregory walks over to the Bishop and sits at his feet, simultaneously Peter walks to the table asking “Is everything holy, is alligators holy, Bishop? Is the world holy? Is the organ of man holy? [the narration continues] The Bishop says, what, holy, holy? He says, Oh my mother wants to play the organ.”
Mezz Mcgillicuddy positions a chair in-front of the pump organ so the old lady can play something “holy”. Noticeably the music the mother plays is the same as which was heard during the exterior scene depicting the street congregation. In a separate room of the apartment Gregory asks Milo, “When are we going to blow man, what are we going to do?” The soundtrack changes to jazz and the tempo increases, emphasized by the increased speed of the editing. In the bedroom McGillicuddy begins to play the French horn. A woman laying on the bed tosses and rolls away from him. While in the living room Alan has joined in the ‘confrontation’ with the Bishop asking him, in quick fire questions, punctuating the jazz rhythms, “are holy flowers holy? Is the world holy? Is glasses holy? Is time holy? Is all the white moonlight holy? Empty rooms are holy? You holy? Come on Bishop tell us. Toy holy? Byzantine holy? Is mock holy? Izzamerican flag holy? Is girl holy? Is your sister holy? What is holy? Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy? And car holy and light holy? Is holy holy?” Each question is punctuated by the cutting of the film to illustrate it, which serves as an emphasis to the quick-fire Kerouac as Alan narration. The music becomes increasingly frenetic as Milo picks up a saxophone and begins to blow. The Bishop states that he should be leaving, and Milo’s wife sees the Bishop and his family out.
Pablo ambles into the room, where he is asked by Milo if he wants to play too. Returning from his bedroom clutching a horn he joins in the impromptu session. The soundtrack becomes punctuated with random blasts of out-of-key horn, emphasizing Pablo’s playing.
Cutting to a long-shot of the table, with more relaxed music on the soundtrack, Milo picks up Pablo, the camera focuses on the action moves to capture the smoke rising from the cigarettes in the ashtray on the table. Kerouac sings: “Up you go, little smoke. Up you go little smoke. Up you go, little smoke.” Each line is higher in pitch. The smoke about which he is singing being both the actual smoke from the ashtray, but also – and more importantly – the child being lovingly carried on his father’s shoulder from the room. Mezz plays alone while, outside, the wife waves goodbye to the Bishop.
Alan announces “Wow, let’s do something we’ve never done” and suggests that they “play cowboys”. Milo – who has returned from his son’s room – begins to tell a story about a cowboy. Milo’s speech is delivered in Kerouac’s driest quasi-William Burroughs-styled tones (indeed the story could almost be a homage to William Burroughs’ blackly humoured routines). The story describes a cowboy who shoots a wino who is sitting at a Preacher’s feet (the story is a reference to Gregory’s behavior). Milo enacts the story while recounting it, finally – as the cowboy shoots the wino – Milo points his finger-gun at Gregory’s head. A close up of the finger-gun death shot to gregory’s head illustrates Gregory’s anger at being the butt of the story; “What’d you do that for? – Pow!”
Milo’s wife returns and once again berates him for his behaviour. The three poets – all sitting in line, wdged onto the sofa – appear like naughty school boys. Led by McGillicuddy the poets run from the apartment, calling for Milo to follow them “Come on down those steps. Let’s go. We’ll go somewhere, we’ll find something. Maybe we’ll play by fires in the Bowery.” Milo argues with his wife, then angrily kicks the rocking chair which rocks back and forth as he leaves the room. In a visual counterpoint to the movements of the rocking chair in the apartment, a ceiling rose in the dark entrance hall swings back and forth: “And the rose swings. She’ll get over it. [Milo appears on the stairs to be greeted by the poets] Come on, Milo. Here comes sweet Milo, beautiful Milo. [In Milo’s voice] Hello gang. Dad a dad a And they’re going dada dad a dada dad a da” the narration becomes accelertated, in an affirmation of joy. The group run out, laughing, into the night.