Filming Jack Kerouac’s Beatnik San Francisco: Prohibitive Cost of Archival footage

Way up in northern California, up past the Redwood curtain of giants at Eureka High School in the early 1960s, Richard Beggs was known as ‘the only Beat,’ as in Beatnik.  He was proud of that.

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When Richard moved to San Francisco to study painting at the San Francisco Art Institute, he was disappointed to discover the closed doors at the Coexistence Bagel Shop, where Beats hung out.  Some might say the Beatniks ‘made way’ for the Hippies, but Richard worked hard to keep any semblance of the Beat generation alive.

Once Richard moved to San Francisco, his passion for working in sound mixing sparked and never left.  He has continually added to his knowledge for thirty-nine years.  In fact, I’ve discovered why his early years training as a fine art painter were formative for his later work mixing and designing the final sound track for feature films–but the answer to that will be in my film!

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A beautiful day in Washington Park, San Francisco, CA.  Photo by Kristin Sherman Olnes.

On a pretty day in San Francisco after an interview with Richard, I drove to North Beach to The Beat Museum.  I wanted a book that would give me a better understanding of what the Beatnik vibe was like in San Francisco in its heyday.  What did the Beats do for fun?  Where did they hang out?  A man knowledgable about all things Kerouac gave me a recommendation:  The Subterraneans, by Jack Kerouac.

The Subterraneans is about Kerouac’s brief relationship with an African American woman in San Francisco in the late 1950s.  It took me longer than I thought to read through the dense prose.

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All the while, I highlighted the phrases in Kerouac’s book:   people, places, and things in North Beach, on Market Street, at the beach, near Polk, the new Broadway tunnel, and the old Stockton tunnel.  I figured that Richard would have gone to many of the same places.  Many of the buildings in downtown San Francisco haven’t changed.  I’ve already filmed the places where Richard hung out.  But now I’m working on secondary footage of North Beach and I’m using Kerouac’s references as inspiration.

From The Subterraneans:

“…going up Columbus I’d turn into Filbert…” p 22

“…it was about the tunnels, the Stockton Street tunnel and the one they just built on Broadway, that’s the one we talked of the most…” p 30

“Churches of old bells and downtown around Market where our tattered Negro Joan of Arc wandered…” p 31

“…the flowers on the corner in baskets, and the old Italian in his apron with the newspapers…, and the Chinese father in tight ecstatic suit wheeling the basket carriage baby down Powell with his pink-spot-cheeked wife of glitter brown eyes…”  p 31

“…walked up a hill, up California past Chinatown…came to a white garage and this guy in a swivel chair who wanted to know what I wanted…” p 32

“Soft arms swinging…long slow flowing strides, coming to a stop on a corner with an imperious soft pose..” p 4

“…20 family tenement with bay windows, the wash hung out and in the afternoon the great symphony of Italian mothers, children, father and yelling from step-ladders, smells, cats mewing…” p 15

“…a drizzle of mist, silence of sleeping Frisco, the B-O boats in the bay, the shroud over the bay of great claw mouth fogs,

“…the aureola of funny eerie light being sent up in the middle by the Arcade Hood Droops of the Pillar-templed Alcatraz…the cool dark peace.” p 24

“…going for coffee in the cafeteria, sitting at the table alone…glistening sidewalks, signs announcing baked flounder, the reflections of rain in pane glass and in pillar mirror, the beauty of the food counters displaying cold spread…steam of the coffee urn.” p 28

“…Sunday morning blue emptiness just the flutter of a few papers in the gutter and the long white view to Oakland Sabbath haunted…” p 31

“…white ships cut in clean blue lines beneath the Golden Gate’s span…” p 31

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In the mid 60s, Richard Beggs enjoyed eating sandwiches at Molinari’s Delicatessen, a historic landmark in North Beach San Francisco, California.  Photo by Kristin Sherman Olnes

Well I took those phrases and made them into a shot list, a list of things to film.   I plan to wander around North Beach with my Sony RX10 looking for Kerouac’s references.  It’s self-imposed ‘Director of Photography’ practice.  But honestly, I got the idea when I realized that I can’t afford archival footage–at Getty Images, or any place for that matter.

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I will arrive at the ‘truth’ by shooting present references of Keruoac’s past.  iPhone photo by Kristin Sherman Olnes.

At the Smithsonian Archives of American Art website, a photo of the Coexistence Bagel shop would cost at least $75 for use in a film–with contingencies.  If my film was purchased, the right to use that image would not apply to someone else.  I have to pay a lot more for that right.  It’s too expensive!  As an independent filmmaker self-financing my film about Richard Beggs, well I have very little money to spend!

At least I know my footage from this invented exercise is an homage to Jack Kerouac and to my subject’s youthful intrigue with all things Beat.

Follow my blog for more stories about the progress of my profile of Richard Beggs…

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