In 1951, George Whitman opened a bookshop-commune in Paris. George, 92, still runs his "den of anarchists disguised as a bookstore," offering free, dirty beds to poor literati, cutting his ... See full summary »
In 1951, George Whitman opened a bookshop-commune in Paris. George, 92, still runs his "den of anarchists disguised as a bookstore," offering free, dirty beds to poor literati, cutting his hair with a candle and gluing the carpet with pancake batter. More than 40,000 poets, travelers and political activists have stayed at Shakespeare and Company, writing or stealing books, throwing parties and making soup or love while living with George's generosity and fits of anger. Illustrious guests include Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, Jacques Prévert, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, James Baldwin and Richard Wright. Welcome to the makeshift utopia of the last member of the Beat Generation. Written by
Came across this documentary some years ago on the Sundance Channel about an eccentric man almost a century old, American expatriate George Whitman, running an avant-garde bookstore in Paris and it took me by surprise. Whitman lives at his bookstore 24-7, aspiring writers and college students, total strangers, come to stay for free, with none of the modern day paranoia type background checks, and in exchange for room and board perform odd jobs round the bookstore.
The meal preparation scenes are arresting, don't know how many health code violations they had or how many roaches and cleaning products they they mixed into the meals. Nothing quite like pancakes and cleaning products. We also get interviews with Whitman himself and his gorgeous daughter Sylvia Beach Whitman as well as various other French, British and American commentators on their musings about the legendary and eclectic bookstore and all the great literary figures who's visited there, among them William S. Burroughs, Langston Hughes, Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac. It seems like a place that's falling down and in disrepair but somehow survived in an era of mass gentrification.
The highlight of the film is the climax when we see Whitman do his version of The Human Torch, I leave it at that and say it is something that has to be seen to be believed.
The film also features the gorgeous redheaded student George Davey in her first and possibly only film appearance. She has a memorable scene where she mixes up a pancake batter like glue to fix a loose section of the bookstore's carpet. There is a shot of Davey's bouncing breasts as she stamps down the loose carpet that is one of the sexiest shots in documentary cinema.
The only negatives may be is that the film isn't long enough and might have seen a wide release if it was at least twenty minutes longer. Shakespeare & Company is a place many'd be willing to learn about a lot longer than the current humble and under an hour running time.
Simple and haunting classic theme music is used to great effect throughout the film. It was shot a few yours before the advent of high definition video cameras but the image quality is still good.
Portrait of a Bookstore as an Old Man recalls of a simpler and romanticized time when it seemed one could go to Paris, live cheap, have intellectual conversations, and be a writer. In this day and age of cultural downfall it's good to see a part of the past that's actually worth preserving still survives.
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