Pull My Daisy: 1959 Beatnik Film Stars Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, Shot by Robert Frank

Sure, you could expe­ri­ence the Beat sen­si­bil­i­ty on film by watch­ing The Beat Gen­er­a­tion. But why set­tle for that high-gloss Metro-Gold­wyn-May­er fea­ture treat­ment when you can get an unadul­ter­at­ed half-hour chunk of the real thing above, in Pull My Daisy? Both films came out in 1959, but only the lat­ter comes from the lens of pho­tog­ra­ph­er Robert Frank, he of the famous pho­to­book The Amer­i­cans. And only the lat­ter fea­tures the uncon­ven­tion­al per­form­ing tal­ents of Allen Gins­berg, David Amram, Del­phine Seyrig, and Jack Ker­ouac. That Ker­ouac him­self pro­vides all the nar­ra­tion assures us we’re watch­ing a movie ful­ly com­mit­ted to the Beat mind­set. “Ear­ly morn­ing in the uni­verse,” he says to set the open­ing scene. “The wife is get­tin’ up, openin’ up the win­dows, in this loft that’s in the Bow­ery of the Low­er East Side of New York. She’s a painter, and her hus­band’s a rail­road brake­man, and he’s comin’ home in a cou­ple hours, about five hours, from the local.”

Ker­ouac’s ambling words seem at first like one impro­vi­sa­tion­al ele­ment of many. In fact, they pro­vid­ed the pro­duc­tion’s only ele­ment of impro­vi­sa­tion: Frank and com­pa­ny took pains to light, shoot, script, and rehearse with great delib­er­ate­ness, albeit the kind of delib­er­ate­ness meant to cre­ate the impres­sion of thrown-togeth­er, ram­shackle spon­tane­ity. But if the kind of care­ful craft that made Pull My Daisy seems not to fit with­in the anar­chic sub­cul­tur­al col­lec­tive per­sona of the Beats, sure­ly the premis­es of its sto­ry and the con­se­quences there­of do. The afore­men­tioned brake­man brings a bish­op home for din­ner, but his exu­ber­ant­ly low-liv­ing bud­dies decide they want in on the fun. Or if there’s no fun to be had, then, in keep­ing with what we might iden­ti­fy as Beat prin­ci­ples, they’ll cre­ate some of their own. Or at least they’ll cre­ate a dis­tur­bance, and where could a Beat pos­si­bly draw the line between dis­tur­bance and fun?

Relat­ed con­tent:

Bob Dylan and Allen Gins­berg Vis­it the Grave of Jack Ker­ouac (1979)

Jack Ker­ouac Reads from On the Road (1959)

Jack Kerouac’s Hand-Drawn Cov­er for On the Road (And More Great Cul­ture from Around the Web)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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Comments (5)
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  • steven says:

    Check out Pull My Daisy on the won­der­ful Allen Gins­berg blog (The Allen Gins­berg Project) and many more great (free!) Allen Gins­berg Stream­ing Videos — http://ginsbergblog.blogspot.com/2011/05/pull-my-daisy.html

  • Paul Tatara says:

    Imag­ine how great these guys would have been with some­thing as tacky as an edi­tor.

  • BasicFunguist says:

    How about those Wyamine nasal inhalers these beat fel­las’ usta score at ‑was it, “Peo­ple’s Phar­ma­cy” on 50th on that short strip between Bdwy. and 7th? “500mg active ingre­di­ent mephrenter­mine” on the nasal strip inside the plas­tic inhaler.

    Up, UP! an’ AWAY!!!! FOR DAZE…primitive Nean­derthal cousin to the gen­teel Dex­am­il span­sules of a lat­er day.

    Beats were the first speed phreaks.

  • edend says:

    https://archive.org/details/BestOfBeatGeneration The Beat Gen­er­a­tion Ulti­mate Sound­track to share free to any Beat­i­tude Lovers §:)

  • Jerome Poynton says:

    Robert Frank told me the audio sound­track of Jack Ker­ouac was record­ed at lab screen­ing of edit­ed Pull My Daisy for the pur­pose of spon­ta­neous­ly record­ing Jack.

    To con­tend that Frank shoot­ing & light­ing & block­ing was “not impro­vi­sa­tion­al” is wrong.

    Frank impro­vised with light­ing issues nec­es­sary to process and print 1958 b/w Kodak film stock shot with 16mm cam­era in small spaces at that time.

    Ever­thing was impro­vi­sa­tion­al. Frank’s under­stand­ing of light is impro­vi­sa­tion­al. His skill with film cap­ture — from Can­dy Moun­tain to One Hour — is impro­vi­sa­tion­al with film for­mat and cam­era tech­nol­o­gy avail­able at time of shoot­ing. I ask Open Cul­ture writer to recon­sid­er his flawed aca­d­e­m­ic the­sis by com­par­ing the roots of Pull My Daisy (1959)improvisation with the mak­ing of Cock­suck­er Blues with The Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street Tour, 12 years lat­er and One Hour — over 30 years lat­er — sin­gle take for — one hour High‑8 video tape stock of ear­ly 1990s.

    Frank’s walk­ing into a room is impro­visan­tion­al.

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