In her film, “Crazy Wisdom: The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics Synopsis” – available in its entirety at the bottom of this page courtesy of SnagFilms – filmmaker Kate Linhardt explores the counter-cultural movement of Naropa University’s unique Buddhist writing program, founded by Allen Ginsberg and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1974.
“Crazy Wisdom: The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics”
Director: Kate Linhardt
Camera: Donald McKinnon, Patrick Selvage, Kate Linhardt, Alberto Grifi
Music: Meredith Monk, Allen Ginsberg, Kate Linhardt
The full short, “Crazy Wisdom: The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics” is available free on SnagFilms (and at the end of this article). This interview with Kate is part of a new series of SnagFilm filmmaker profiles that will be featured weekly on indieWIRE.
Director Kate Linhardt on counter-cultural movements and the institutionalization of creativity…
I think ultimately the film is about how counter-cultural movements evolve and mutate over time. It’s also kind of about how “alternative” communities develop and why we seek them out. I tried to approach it from a feminist perspective, delving into the way women were undervalued and often not taken as seriously as their male counterparts. There are also elements related to class and race that I wish I could have explored more. It’s very interesting the way religion permeated the whole scene as well, through the teachings of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who was an exile from Tibet and brought this very Westernized form of Buddhism to the US. Ginsberg was following Rinpoche and the students were following Ginsberg; it became this very intense environment, especially for those who expressed criticism or chose not to participate.
The main question I had going into this was “how do you institutionalize creativity?”- it’s a question that could easily be applied to any MFA program or art school, but it felt especially pertinent here because in this case the teachers were radical writers and philosophers – it seemed counter-intuitive to try to teach someone how to be a beat or a buddhist, and then build this bureaucracy around it. At least, that was my preconception before I started talking to people there more. Maybe that was more the case in 1974 when hippie kids were flocking to Boulder to be near these rockstar writers, but that aspect has been really diluted over time.
On the challenges of the “micro-budget” and archive access…
Well, first of all, this film was definitely produced on a micro-budget if there ever was one. The American Culture Department at Vassar College helped me to pay for my flight out to Colorado for a week and my advisor put me in touch with students at the University of Colorado who offered to shoot the interviews with me for very little. Other then that I just had a $100 handicam and luckily I didn’t need much more. The biggest challenge actually turned out to be Naropa University itself; I had gone into this project thinking that a significant part of it would just be old video footage from the school’s extensive archive at the Allen Ginsberg library. Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman were huge proponents of documentation at the school – they wanted every poetry reading and panel discussion filmed for posterity, and I naively assumed that I would have full access to these materials, but that wasn’t the case. In addition, the head of the Writing Department at the time felt uneasy with me filming the writing workshops themselves, because students might be thrown off or inhibited by the presence of the camera. I couldn’t argue with him, obviously, but it was just another gap in my process. That’s why I ended up using so many clips from Costanzo Allione’s wonderful 1974 documentary “Fried Shoes, Cooked Diamonds”. It was the only footage I had to represent the school’s past.
On sources of inspiration and what’s planned next…
I attended Naropa’s Summer Writing Program in the summer of 2005 and was really overwhelmed and curious about the whole scene there. That’s how I got interested in the school. It was like some bizarre conflation of a rapid weight loss program and a strange metaphysical trade fair. Very new-agey and earnest. I had always been such a big beat fan and I read Kerouac in high school and looked up to all those writers, but when I got there and saw this legacy and met the people who went to the school, I had a sense that it was way more complicated than I realized.
I’m currently in production on a new documentary about one of the writers I interviewed in “Crazy Wisdom,” Bobbie Louise Hawkins. After viewing the film, so many people would ask me, “who was that woman?!” – she just emerged from it as the centerpiece somehow for me, and for other people too, I think. So I wrote to her and asked if she’d be open to me making a film just about her, and she was surprisingly receptive to the idea. She’s led a fascinating life, and she’s just so captivating to listen to. One of the reasons I wanted to make a film about her was because so many women writers from the so-called “beat era” have remained in obscurity for far too long while guys like Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and Robert Creeley, (Bobbie’s ex-husband), have been put up on pedestals and are recognized as ambassadors of this cultural phenomenon. Bobbie had to write her first novel in secret because Creeley didn’t want to live in a house with a woman who wrote. We think of this group of people as having such progressive values, but that didn’t necessarily include feminism. With my new film I hope to shed light on other perspectives from this community of writers, and draw into question the almost mythic stature that certain male figures have attained in many literary circles.