James Broughton Biography

November 10, 1913 brought the birth of a poet, playwright, and filmmaker James Broughton. Considering himself "first and foremost a poet," Broughton earned most notoriety through his films.

Broughton was born in Modesto, California and later moved to San Francisco; where he had spent most of his childhood. At the age of five, James Broughton's father had died. In an interview, Broughton stated "My mother was a dashing young widow, so life was a bit peculiar" (Sheehy 3). All his life, James Broughton had a fascination with theater, which would later serve as a means of living. At the age of nine, Broughton was shipped off to military school and stayed there until he was sixteen. While pursuing a writing career at Stanford University, Broughton picked up and moved to New York and worked as a theater critic. (Sheehy 3)

It was through writing that James Broughton met Sidney Peterson (at that time Peterson was an artist who would later make the avant-garde classic, The Cage) and film making. Broughton had moved back to California to produce a play he had written called Summer Fury. Peterson had attended a performance of Summer Fury and the two decided to collaborate on film. In 1946, The Potted Psalm, a film by James Broughton and Sidney Peterson, was completed. Despite artistic differences, both Peterson and Broughton were happy with their collaboration. P. Adams Sitney wrote of the Broughton-Peterson collaboration in his book Visionary Film :

Speaking of James Broughton, Peterson has defined the difference between their sensibilities and their works as that between visual orientation and mise un scene. Broughton wrote a brief autobiographical sketch in which he says, "Sidney Peterson introduced me to the magic of experimental film." They are both unusually generous for one-time collaborators when referring to each other's work. (79)

After The Potted Psalm, Broughton decided he was ready to do his own work. 1948 brought the avant garde classic, Mother's Day. Within Mother's Day, Broughton dealt with the theme of human pain and lack of emotion. After the success of Mother's Day, James Broughton went on to make five more films through the years of 1950-1953. These films are: Adventures of Jimmy, Four in the Afternoon, Loony Tom, The Happy Lover, and The Pleasure Garden. After making these films, it would take fifteen years for another James Broughton film to be completed.

During his fifteen year hiatus, James Broughton had decided to focus upon his writing. Broughton had met artist/designer Suzanna Hart and the two agreed to be married. In the article "Celebration," by Terry Sheehy, Mrs. Broughton spoke of her initial reactions to her husband:

I saw James perform many times. He would read his poetry or introduce his plays at the Playhouse. I was very impressed because he was someone I always admired. At that time he was leaning heavily on a silver-topped cane. I thought how romantic. I didn't learn until later he had broken his ankle. We were married in December of 1962. (8)

The Broughtons had two children, a daughter, Serena, and a son, Orion. Then in 1968, James Broughton completed one of his most popular films, The Bed. The Bed toys with themes of sexual freedom and exploration. In fact, The Bed was one of the first films to contain full frontal nudity of both sexes and not be considered pornography (Sheehy 10). Broughton went on to make Nupitae, The Golden Positions, and This Is It before making his longest and most technical film, Dreamwood. After making Dreamwood, Broughton would go on to make High Kukus, Testament, The Water Circle, Erogeny, and Hermes Bird on his own. The late seventies and early eighties brought another collaboration for Broughton with film maker, Joel Singer. However, unlike the Peterson collaboration, Singer and Broughton would make six films together. These films are: Together, Song of Godbody, Windowmobile, The Gardener of Eden, Shaman Psalm, Devotions, and Scattered Remains. 1988's Scattered Remains was James Broughton's last and most recent film.

After living a creative life of eighty five years, James Broughton died on May 24,1999. Broughton died in Modesto, California the same town in which he was born. Even though the world has lost the physicalities of the man, the legacy of James Broughton will forever live within the themes of each and every one of his numerous works.

--Eva Jones

From: Chuck Kleinhans (chuckkle@NWU.EDU)
Date: Mon, May 24, 1999, 3:31 PM
Subject: Broughton, RIP

PORT TOWNSEND, Wash. (AP) -- James Broughton, an avant-garde filmmaker and poet often regarded as the father of West Coast independent cinema, died May 17 of heart failure. He was 85.

Broughton considered himself ``first and foremost a poet'' and was prominent in San Francisco's art community for decades.

He wrote more than 20 books of verse, including ``True and False Unicorn'' -- often considered his strongest and most important long poem.

But his avant garde films such as ``Dreamwood,'' ``The Pleasure Garden'' and ``The Golden Positions'' received more attention, earning him an American Film Institute lifetime achievement award in 1989.

One, ``The Bed,'' focused on an ornate bed in a meadow where life's most significant moments -- birth, sex and death -- took place. Broughton played a role in the film, along with other San Francisco artists and writers, all nude.

Broughton began making films in the mid-1940s and also wrote plays for San Francisco's Playhouse Repertory Theater in the late 1950s and 1960s.

Chuck Kleinhans
Associate Professor, Radio/Television/Film
Northwestern University
1905 Sheridan Rd. Evanston IL 60208-2270 USA

Best phone: 773-871-5742
home page: http://www.rtvf.nwu.edu/faculty/kleinhans/ (under repair)
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James Broughton was born on November 10, 1913 in Modesto California. At an early age, Broughton was inspired to be a creative thinker. At the age of three, he was instructed to write poetry by an angel that appeared to him in a dream. In his work, Broughton didnıt hide his homosexuality. He dealt with it directly by not being placed in a category. To break him out of his feminine ways, Broughtonıs mother sent him to military school at the age of 10.

Before he made films, Broughton was a poet, playwright and screenwriter. Broughton and his former lover, Kermit Sheets founded Centaur Press out of their home on 1724 Baker St in San Francisco and published Broughtonıs poetry and the works of other poets. Broughton and Sheets staged several plays. Broughton was also a playwright with the Playhouse Repertory Theater in San Francisco from 1958 to 1964. His plays were met with lukewarm reviews by his poetry peers. Broughton soon collaborated with a colleague Sidney Peterson to make the film, The Potted Psalm in 1946. In 1948, Broughton released his first solo film Motherıs Day.

Broughton made several other films after Motherıs Day which includes Adventures of Jimmy (1950), Four in the Afternoon (1951), and Loony Tom, The Happy Lover (1951). After the release of these films, Broughton and Sheets moved to Europe. While in Europe, Broughton made and released The Pleasure Garden (1953). The Pleasure Garden was successful in Europe and won several awards at various film festivals in Europe, including Cannes. When it was released in New York, it was a failure.

After the failure of The Pleasure Garden, Broughton returned to San Francisco and took a 15 year hiatus from film making and focused on his writing and poetry. After a while a colleague encouraged Broughton to continue making films and in 1968, Broughton released The Bed. The Bed was the success that The Pleasure Garden wasnıt and its success renewed Broughtonıs interest in film making. Broughton went on to release several more films including, Nuptiae (1969), The Golden Positions (1970) and This Is It (1971).

James Broughton met and married artist and designer, Suzanna Hart who worked for the San Francisco Opera in 1962 and had two children. Later films of James Broughton include Dreamwood (1972), High Kukus (1973), and Testament (1974).

James Broughton died on May 17, 1999 of heart failure. He was 85 years old.

--Tessa Austin, 2003

James Broughton