The Beatnik on Film

My uncle sent me this Beatnik birthday card, and it reminded me of the rather hilarious portrayals of Beatniks I have seen in films over the years:


Take, for example, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies (1964).  At the time of its release, it had the longest title of any film ever made.  Director Ray Dennis Steckler plays Jerry (“Flagg”), a Beat with finely tuned anti-authority tendencies, who succumbs to the hypnotizing power of a carnival stripper (Carmelita) and is compelled to join the zombie forces of the evil fortune-teller Estrella.

Director Ray Dennis Steckler as "Jerry"

And who can forget the ridiculous Parisian Beat scene in Funny Face (1957)?  Audrey Hepburn will always be dear to me, largely due to my love for Roman Holiday (1953) and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), but her Jazz dance and an over-the-top Professor Flostre are just a bit too much.

Black turtleneck?  Check. Bongo drums? Check.

Granted, most films produced at this time that dealt with Beat culture derived their material by and large from secondhand stereotypes.  The Beatniks (1960), anyone?  Or The Beat Generation (1959)?  As Joyce Johnson describes in her memoir, Minor Characters, the ” ‘Beat Generation’ sold books, sold black turtleneck sweaters and bongos, berets and dark glasses, sold a way of life that seemed like dangerous fun—thus to be either condemned or imitated. Suburban couples could have beatnik parties on Saturday nights and drink too much and fondle each other’s wives.”  As mainstream and coopted as it may have become, it’s still good for a laugh to see how film deals with fringe groups.  This would only be repeated later in the decade as hippies gained more popular exposure.


3 Responses to “The Beatnik on Film”

  1. C’mon, really. Let’s not forget 1960’s “The Beatniks” starring Tony Travis.

  2. leclisse Says:

    I believe that is mentioned in my last paragraph.

  3. Also ‘Beat Girl’ starring Gillian Hills and Tony Hancock’s ‘The Rebel’… and does ‘Jazz on a Summer’s Day’ count?

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