Allen Ginsberg’s Last Three Days on Earth as a Spirit: The Poet’s Final Days Captured in a 1997 Film

You may have read Allen Gins­berg’s final poem “Things I’ll Not Do (Nos­tal­gias)” when we fea­tured it last month. In it, the lead­ing Beat poet, near­ing the very end of his life, lists off all of the peo­ple, places, and things he knew he would nev­er see, vis­it, and do again. But a prac­tic­ing Bud­dhist such as Gins­berg cer­tain­ly would­n’t have viewed the event of his death with total final­i­ty. What, then, hap­pened to him after April 5th, 1997, when his offi­cial biog­ra­phy came to a close? Here we have one attempt at an answer by Lithuan­ian avant-garde lumi­nary Jonas Mekas (who, inci­den­tal­ly, hap­pens to remain active in this mor­tal coil today at the age of 91). Mekas doc­u­men­tary Scenes from Allen’s Last Three Days on Earth as a Spir­it observes Gins­berg’s Bud­dhist wake and col­lects mem­o­ries and impres­sions from his friends and col­lab­o­ra­tors, Mekas him­self includ­ed.

The scenes occa­sioned by Gins­berg’s death slant, per­haps unsur­pris­ing­ly, toward the artis­tic and lit­er­ary: musi­cian Pat­ti Smith, poet Gre­go­ry Cor­so, writer Amiri Bara­ka, visu­al artist Hiro Yam­a­ga­ta, and poet Anne Wald­man all make appear­ances. You can watch an excerpt of the film above and its 67-minute entire­ty on Ubuweb. (Also find the film list­ed in the doc­u­men­taries sec­tion of our col­lec­tion of Free Movies Online.) Allen’s Last Three Days on Earth, a kind of video diary as well as a memo­r­i­al state­ment, gives as much insight into Mekas’ per­spec­tive as it does to Gins­berg’s exis­tence. By the time of Gins­berg’s pass­ing, Mekas’s body of work includ­ed “two nar­ra­tive films and near­ly twen­ty years’ worth of pri­vate record­ings,” at which point he had “decid­ed to make fea­ture films from his home movies.” That descrip­tion comes from Aaron Cut­ler in The Believ­er, writ­ing on Mekas’ meth­ods of turn­ing into “oppo­si­tion­al cin­e­ma” records of his life spent immersed in the art world. Such a prac­tice cap­tures many impor­tant ques­tions, often inad­ver­tent­ly. In this case, one in par­tic­u­lar has left me think­ing: what on Earth would Allen Gins­berg have rein­car­nat­ed as?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Read Allen Ginsberg’s Poignant Final Poem “Things I’ll Not Do (Nos­tal­gias)”

Hear the Very First Record­ing of Allen Gins­berg Read­ing His Epic Poem “Howl” (1956)

Allen Ginsberg’s “Celes­tial Home­work”: A Read­ing List for His Class “Lit­er­ary His­to­ry of the Beats”

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, Asia, film, lit­er­a­ture, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on his brand new Face­book page.

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