I’ve watched Wholly Communion twice now in order to confirm the sheer car crash awfulness of much of its fascinating content. One of the most awful scenes is that of Harry Fainlight (1935-1982) being crucified on stage by a hostile audience, whilst the mescalin-raddled Dutch writer, Simon Vinkenoog (another ‘who, exactly?) chants ‘love, love’ in very unlovely way, as Fainlight winces and minces on and off the stage. “Oh happy lightbulb” opines Harry, whose biography makes for sad reading. Hipsters then had absolutely NO idea how to handle those with obvious mental health problems (it was the same in the 70s in my particular crowd). Jokers like Ginsberg came across all “you have to be mad to work here”, but were ultimately impotent in the face of the real thing. Poor old Harry had to be escorted off the stage, before returning for a final, slightly more positively received turn.
Our own Adrian Mitchell makes a good show with an anti-Vietnam poem (whilst obviously being in no risk of being immediately drafted), before making a bit of an ass of himself with his one-line “love is like a cigarette…the bigger the drag, the more you get”. (It’s the way they told ‘em?) Ernst Jandl, on the other hand, goes full Kurt Schwitters, and goes down a storm, presumably because Dada poetry offers an genuinely joyful alternative to all the po-faced main menu offered up.
The coup de grace though if the clearly-pissed Allen Ginsberg, all puffed-up importance and parading paranoid, persecutory nonsense in ‘ob-verse’, a counterculture Zelig, who managed to be around in so many situations (back cover of Bringing It All Back Home, the famed Beatles/Dylan encounter, being just two). The mot juste of “Shitting the meat out of my ears on my cancer death bed..” being evacuated in front of a woman doing ‘creative dancing’ in the camera’s foreground is just one lowlight in this shit show of bloated self-importance. It’s amazing that this was ever thought ‘important’, but Beat was surely ever about the lifestyle rather than the actual art? (Burroughs is a guarded exception.)
At the end, one lone voice is heard to utter, like a bereft child, “I’ve lost my poetry book!” They weren’t the only one. Watch it and weep. It’s a mesmerising historical document, released on DVD as Peter Whitehead and the Sixties.