“THE BEAT HOTEL”— Paris, 1957

The Beat Hotel”

Paris, 1957

Amos Lassen

A cheap Paris hotel in the Latin Quarter in 1957 became a shelter for the new kind of artists who left American conformity and censorship. This same hotel became the center of the writing that characterized the Bear Generation and it was from there that some of the most important writings emerged. The hotel soon became known as the Beat Hotel. The new documentary by the same name and directed by Alan Govenar explores the place and the time.

When the obscenity trials that took place around the publication of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” began to gain speed, Ginsberg and his lover, Peter Orlovsky, fled to Paris to a small hotel at 9 rue Git le Coeur and soon afterwards they were joined by William Burroughs, Ian Somerville and Brion Gysin. Madame Rachou ran the hotel that became “the place” where creativity and permissiveness ruled. It was there that Burroughs together with Gysin developed the writing method that came to be known as the “cut-up method”. It was here that Burroughs finished his novel, “Naked Lunch” and Ginsberg began his poem “Kaddish”. The Dream Machine was invented here by Somerville and Gysin and great poems were written by Gregory Corso and Harold Norse wrote the novella aptly named, “The Beat Hotel”.

The film looks at the years 1958-1963 when the fertility of the man was no place better housed than at the Beat Hotel. Here was “Bohemia working at its best”. Now all of those who were there are dead so we must depend on those who were around them to tell us how things were.

Although the filmmaker falls into a trap using actors to stand in for some of the literary legends, the film captures an organic essence of the residential hotel’s freewheeling atmosphere as fostered by its eccentric owner Madame Rachou”.

The film includes interviews with Beat historians Regina Weinreich and Oliver Harris, photographer Harold Chapman, former hotel residents, and other survivors and we get something of a narrative about those writers who were influential. The film “provides an airing of colorful remembrances about a time and place that made unburdened creativity possible to a particular group of artists. To the extent that modern creative types can only dream about such a wild and free experience, the film is an inspired musing of audacious ideas expressed by charmed personalities”. The hotel has been renovated and all that there is to show what went on there is a plaque that celebrates the important place in history that was once there.