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The Independent Critic

Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Gregory Corso, William Burroughs, Ian Somerville, Bryon Gysin and other Beat writers
Alan Govenar
88 Mins.
First Run Features

 "The Beat Hotel" Review  
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The Beat Hotel was many things starting with being a run-down, ramshackle hotel at 9, Rue Git Le Coeur in Paris and the cheapest, dirtiest place you could possibly find.

But, oh my, how the Beat Hotel was more. It was a sanctuary for uncensored creativity and free-thinkers. It was a place where eccentrics, oddballs, outcasts, poets, writers, musicians, policemen, prostitutes and others could be accepted and even celebrated. It wasn't so much the birthplace of the Beat Movement as it was the place that nurtured it and allowed it to blossom when America was pushing obscenity trials that threatened to squelch it. It was the place where Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky and Gregory Corso fled to after obscenity trials resulted from the publication of Ginsberg's landmark "Howl."

The Beat Hotel opens on March 30th for a week-long run at New York City's Cinema Village with First Run Features, and there will even be a Q&A during the film's opening weekend. Directed by Alan Govenar, The Beat Hotel examines the legacy of the American Beats in Paris between 1957-1963 when Ginsberg, Orlovsky and Corso arrived in Paris and were joined by assorted creative types from Europe and beyond.

Govenar incorporates the photography of British photographer Harold Chapman, whom he tracked down in the small England town of Deal in Kent. Chapman's photographs meld together with the artistic drawings of Scottish artist Elliott Rudie to create stories that are both poignant and, at times, rather light-hearted.

The Beat Hotel is at times heady, a not too surprising fact given the poets upon which it is based, but it's a headiness that may prove distracting for non-poetry, non-Beat fans. In most ways, The Beat Hotel is a documentary for true fans of the Beat Movement who will embrace its stories, memories and first-person testimonies from such familiar faces and voics as George Whitman, Danish filmmaker Lars Movin, author Barry Miles and a host of others who share their recollections of their time in the Beat Hotel and their encounters with the American Beats.

One surprising note may be that for all its emphasis on oddballs and eccentrics, The Beat Hotel is a surprisingly straightforward and low-key documentary that never quite captures the electricity and the emotions that often ran so high during these hard times for radical, straight-shooting artists. In a world where the internet has made virtually all forms of art accessible, it may be difficult for some to grasp just how incredibly outcast some of these artists, and certainly the American Beats, really were during this period in history.

Director Alan Govenar is a writer, filmmaker, folklorist and photographer whose works capturing humanity and daily life have won awards far and wide and appealed to audiences young and old. While The Beat Hotel may not quite capture the excitement of the Beat period, it's a rich and informative documentary that will please poetry fans who prefer authenticity over showmanship.

For more information on The Beat Hotel, visit the film's website.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic