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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  • 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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