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The Burning Gnat

Starring beat icon Herbert Huncke (1915-1996) in his sole acting role, The Burning Ghat was filmed on location in Huncke’s then apartment on Henry Street in Brooklyn, New York. Co-starring his longtime companion Louis Cartwright (later murdered in the East Village in 1994), the film was written and directed by James Rasin (Beautiful Darling: The Life and Times of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol Superstar) and Jerome Poynton. It was edited by Francois Bernadi (director: Walking the Dog, Original Beats, for a kiss…, The last boat), and shot by Michael Slovis (Emmy Award winning cinematographer of “Breaking Bad”).

Although conceived and scripted as a dramatic short, the film incorporates documentary elements reflecting the real life relationship between Huncke and Louis. Allen Ginsberg wrote of the film, “O Rare Herbert Huncke, live on film! The Burning Ghat features late-in-lifetime old partners Huncke & Louis playing characters beyond themselves with restrained solid self-awareness, their brief masquerade of soul climaxing in an inspired moment’s paradox bittersweet as an O’Henry’s tale’s last twist”. Harry Smith said of the film, “It should have been longer”.

The Burning Ghat was featured at the 53rd Venice Biennial, and included in the Whitney Museum’s “Beat Culture and the New America” show of 1996. It won the Gold Plaque Award for Best Short Film at the 1990 Chicago International Film Festival.

 

David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the founder and editor of Beatdom literary journal and the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs the Weird Cult and World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller. His next book, High White Notes: The Rise and Fall of Gonzo Journalism comes out in November, 2021.

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David S. Wills

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