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Screenplays and Movie Appearances

Richard Brautigan was, throughout his life, fascinated with movies. As a child, time spent watching movies was time escaping from the realities of an impoverished life. As an adult, Brautigan appreciated the cinematic and narrative crafts displayed in the movies he watched. Writing screenplays was also, he thought, a way to make money.

Two screenplays written by Brautigan are known. One is based on his novel The Hawkline Monster, the other, Trailer, was written with Brad Donovan. Brandon French adapted A Confederate General from Big Sur. None of these screenplays were ever made into movies.

Brautigan was paid to develop a "treatment" (an expanded idea for a film) to be called Magicians of Light.

Brautigan was reportedly included among those filmed for The Bed by film-maker, poet James Broughton but his appearance was cut out of the final film.

Brautigan made a number of 16mm films with San Francisco film maker Loren Sears. One, titled Yosemite Backyard, featured a voice over of Brautigan reading his poetry over a microscopic view of an overgrown backyard.

Brautigan was featured in three very short appearances in the movie Tarpon.

Brautigan has influenced a number of short, creative films, according to their makers. Additionally, several screenplays based on works by or about Brautigan are currently in development. These include adaptations of The Abortion, The Confederate General from Big Sur, and The Hawkline Monster, and a Brautigan biography entitled For Richard [Brautigan]. More information, HERE

Magicians of Light
July 1967
At the end of July, Brautigan received a telephone call from William Jersey, president of Quest Productions, a small New York film company. Jersey agreed to pay Brautigan $1,000 for expanding an idea for a documentary film about San Francisco. In just a few days, Brautigan produced a fifteen-page treatment for a movie to be called Magicians of Light. It was to be a movie about movie making in San Francisco and would feature many of the members of the hip community. Locations included the Presidio pet cemetery, Foster's cafeteria on Market Street, Golden Gate Park, a Venerial Disease clinic, a light show commune, and a psychedelic whorehouse on Telegraph Hill. For actors, Brautigan suggested Michael McClure, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Bill Graham, and others. The film was never made. (William Hjortsberg 321)

A screenplay about eccentric characters living in a mobile home park.
Written on speculation during Summer 1982 with Brad Donovan.
Never optioned or produced.

Donovan provides the following account of how he and Brautigan wrote the screenplay for Trailer.

Feedback from Brad Donovan
Brad Donovan. Email to John F. Barber, 5 December 2005.
Feedback from Brad Donovan
Brad Donovan. Email to John F. Barber, 29 October 2007.
READ the full text of the screenplay Trailer.
Hal Ashby, director of the movies Being There and Harold and Maude and many others, purchased, for $10,000, the screenplay rights to Brautigan's novel The Hawkline Monster in August 1974 and lined up Jack Nicholson and Harry Dean Stanton to play the two cowboys, Greer and Cameron. Brautigan traveled to Los Angeles, California, to talk with Ashby, who, in June 1975, contracted Brautigan to write the screenplay. The price for both the screenplay and the film rights option came to $125,000 for Brautigan. By mid-summer 1975, Brautigan delivered a 145-page screenplay. He was too late, however. Ashby had moved on to other projects and the Hawkline screenplay languished until June 1976 when Ashby renewed his option. He renewed again in December 1976.

Brautigan, apparently, refused to write a second draft, and Ashby worked, between other projects, to strengthen Brautigan's screenplay and asked writer Michael Dare to write additional scenes.

The movie was always high on Ashby's list of future projects. MGM was keen on the project and frequently asked Ashby about its progress. Ashby spent over $100,000 on developing the film, but set it aside, several times, to work on other projects.

Ashby's option was extended for eighteen months in 1984 following Brautigan's death to allow more time to develop the film. In 1987, Ashby was till trying to make a film of The Hawkline Monster.

In the end, however, Ashby never completed this project, and the novel was never turned into a movie.
(Dawson, Nick, ed. Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel. Lexington: The University of Kentucky Press, 2009. 176, 200-201, 219, 226, 271, 308-309, 331, 339)

Feedback from Michael Dare
Michael Dare. Email to John F. Barber, 25 February 2008.
Feedback from Douglas Avery
Douglas Avery. Email to John F. Barber, 17 September 2009.
Brad Donovan, coauthor, with Brautigan, of the 1982 screenplay, Trailer (see above), provides some additional details about Brautigan's involvement with the original screenplay.

Feedback from Brad Donovan
Brad Donovan. Email to John F. Barber, 29 October 2007.
Brautigan reportedly worked with artist Bruce Conner for a month in Tokyo, Japan, to write a screenplay.
The script aborted because they could not agree on a working style to compose it. Bruce pictured Magritte-like and Troutfishing-like ideas for the film. One idea was to show Dennis Hopper disappearing into quicksand (McClure, Michael "Ninety-one Things about Richard Brautigan" 61).
Tim Burton, artist and director, noted The Hawkline Monster as one of his failed projects as part of a show at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 22 November 2009-26 April 2010.

The Confederate General from Big Sur
A screenplay of the novel A Confederate General from Big Sur was adapted by Brandon French in June 1972 for Brady French Films. The project was never pursued beyond the first draft of the screenplay.

Alleged high school production
Brautigan was reportedly featured in a high school project movie during the 1960s but no copy has been found. The project was that of Tony Brown, son of Bill Brown, writer and friend of Brautigan. Brautigan visited and stayed with the Brown's at their house in Bolinas, California, before he bought his own house there in 1970. Tony provides the following information about this film.

Feedback from Tony Brown
Tony Brown, email to John F. Barber, 20 October 2005.
Rolling Stone (working title)
Ken Botto

An autobiographical movie by Botto, who was played by Jack Thibeau. Janice Meissner played his girlfriend. Brautigan had a small part as a chicken delivery person. Part of the film footage, including Brautigan's walk on part, burned in a fire in 1967. The movie was never finished.
Artists' Liberation Front Fair
Reg E. (Reggae) Williams

The Artists' Liberation Front (ALF) sponsored a crafts fair in the Pan Handle of Golden Gate Park early in the Summer of 1966. Neighborhood artists and residents attended and participated in the festivities.

A film made of the event by Reg E. (Reggae) Williams shows members of the Straight Theater emerging from their theater building, walking up Haight Street, jump starting a 1930s LaSalle automobile and riding it down Haight Street to join the festivities already in progress. This image, taken from the film, shows Brautigan standing amid the swirling events.

Online Resource
The Straight Theater website archives this image and others from the film
Brautigan in the movie Ellen Aste, age 3
Ellen Aste, age 3, versus American Television
1967 (early September?)
Produced by Ernest Lowe
Cinematography by Lauren Sears(?)
Script by Richard Brautigan
16 millimeter; black and white
Running time: 5'44"

Brautigan interviews Ellen Aste (now Ellen Valentine Spring), age 3, regarding what she would like to see on an imaginary television show. Ellen, born 19 February 1965 in San Francisco, California, is the first child and daughter of Anthony (Tony) Frederic Aste and Virginia Dione Alder, Brautigan's first wife. The baby on the countertop may be Aste and Alder's second child, Mara S. Aste, born 22 February 1968 in San Francisco, California. A third child, Jesse, was born 24 November 1969, in Sonoma, California.

Brautigan was contacted by Ernest Lowe, a producer for KQED, channel nine, the public access television station in San Francisod, and asked whether he write a script for a short film for television. The film was made in the Lombard Street apartment of a friend of Alder. Brautigan and Ellen walk out from behind a curtain and sit at the kitchen table where Brautigan asks five questions about what Ellen would like to see on television. For every question she answers, "Purple." There is no record that the film was ever aired on KQED.

Ghetto Yosemite
Produced by Ernest Lowe
Cinematography by Loren Sears
Script by Richard Brautigan
Running time: 3'00"
16 millimeter; black and white

Based on previous experience working with Brautigan (Ellen, age 3, versus American Television, see above) KQED producer Ernest Lowe again asked Brautigan to work on a short film. Sears was again the cinematographer. The film was made in the trash-filled empty lot next to Brautigan's Geary Street apartment. Brautigan's script divided the short movie into four chapters, each with titles and credits superimposed over images of scenic places in Yosemite Valley National Park. Brautigan's voice-over narration began, "This is Ghetto Yosemite located in the Western Addition of San Francisco. A lot of poor people live here. This is their Vernal Falls, their Castle Cliffs, their Inspiration Point . . ." as the film showed close ups of trash found in the empty lot. Police sirens and honking car horns provided additional, ambient sound. The movie aired on KQED in 1968.

Brautigan and McClure The Maze
Open and close narration by Rod Sherry
Program narration by Michael McClure
Produced by Alan Goldberg
Written by Jim Harwood
Directed by Dick Williams
16 mm format; color; 25:12

A television documentary film presented by Michael McClure as a public affairs presentation on San Francisco, California, television station KPIX. The film presented Haight-Ashbury, according to narrator Rod Sherry, as "a magical land that appeared only yesterday and may be gone tomorrow. But if it lasts, the effect on the rest of society could be far reaching. And that's why the outside world must try to understand what is happening here." The hand-held documentary camera follows McClure as he walks along Haight Street, stopping to visit the Pyschedelic Bookshop, the Print Mint, the Straight Theater, and painter Mike Bowen. The film also includes scenes of the house occupied by The Grateful Dead at 710 Ashbury Street. McClure's voice over provides his impressions of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, and explanations of its particular character.

Brautigan is seen twice in the film, once mostly off camera interacting with McClure on the sidewalk, and second, walking with McClure through a park (21:50-22:46). In both appearances, Brautigan is not introduced or identified, nor does he speak.

This photograph shows both Brautigan and McClure as they appeared in the film.

Online Resources
The Maze at the DIVA (Digital Information Virtual Archive) website

The Maze at the Youtube website
Brautigan in the movie Nowsreal Spring 1968
Kelly Hart (independent filmmaker)
Diggers/Free City Collective
16 mm format; color

In one section of this film, called "Street Scene," Brautigan is shown walking and then again in the overgrown garden behind his Geary Street apartment. In voice over he reads "California Native Flowers," one of the poems in his Please Plant This Book.

The film provided a glimpse into the daily life of the Haight-Ashbury underground.

A scene from The Bed by James Broughton
The Bed
20 minutes; 16 mm movie film; color
Camera: Bill Desloge
Music: Warner Jepson
Credited cast: Florence Allen, Gavin Arthur, Imogen Cunningham, Kermit Sheets, Roger Somers, Seth Stiles, and Alan Watts.

In this film, made by film-maker and poet James Broughton, an empty bed resting in a meadow becomes the site for several scenarios and trysts between characters, mostly nude, apparently liberated by its presence and its abilities to evoke pleasure and merriment. Broughton, sitting in a nearby tree, also nude, pops into the film as a kind of Pan, serenading the series of revelers. Crediting William Shakespeare for his world vision, Broughton phrased the theme of his film The Bed this way: "All the world's a bed, and men and women merely dreamers." Allegedly, Brautigan was included in the original footage, but his sequence, however, was not used in the final version of the film.

The Bed broke existent taboos against the depiction of frontal nudity in its celebration of the dance of life and won prizes at several film festivals, including the Oberhausen Film Festival, the Ann Arbor Film Festival, the Yale Film Festival, and the Foothill College Film Festival. Broughton followed The Bed with several other films, each celebrating what he called "the beauty of humans, the surprises of soul, and the necessity of merriment."

Brautigan in the movie Tarpon 1974
UYA Films
Directed by Christian Odasso and Guy de la Valdéne
Photographed by Christian Odasso, Gerard Battista, and Manuel Teran
16 mm format
Running time: 50 minutes (approximate)
Edited by Marie-Sophie Dubus; Assisted by Catherine Galode
Original instrumental music written and performed by Jimmy Buffett (courtesy of ABC Dunhill Records)

A fllm about tarpon fishing using fly rods in Key West, Florida, featuring Jim Harrison, Richard Brautigan, Tom McGuane. Jimmy Buffett's original instrumental music is used throughout the film for background.

Guy de la Valdéne, Tom McGuane, and Brautigan (left to right), photographed in front of the Chart Room, Key West, Florida, 1974. Photograph by Benjamin "Dink" Bruce.

Brautigan appears in four scenes:

The film was restored in Spring 2008. Copies may be purchased through the distributor:
Cathy Ransier
The Book Mailer
P.O. Box 1273
Helena, MT 59624-1273
Phone: 406-443-7332
Fax: 406-443-0788

The trailer for Tarpon includes a brief introduction to Brautigan.

Author Jim Harrison mentions Tarpon in his book Off To the Side: A Memoir.

Feedback from Ken Keiran
Ken Keiran. Email to John F. Barber, 10 July 2008.
Online Resource
Interview with Guy de la Vandene about Tarpon at the Midcurrent website
Brautigan in the movie Summer of Love
American Experience: Summer of Love
PBS—Produced by WGBH in association with KQED
Directed by Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco
Running time: 60 minutes

Part of the "American Experience" documentary series, this film chronicles the zenith of the hippie experience in San Francisco, the summer of 1967. In the 3:00 minute section dealing with the Diggers, and their efforts to provide free food for the thousands of young people living on the streets, Brautigan makes a brief appearance unloading produce from a truck. He is not named, nor does he speak.

Online Resources
Summer of Love at the PBS American Experience website