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Originally published Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 3:06 PM

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‘Big Joy’: The spirited life of poet James Broughton

A three-star review of “Big Joy,” a documentary about filmmaker and poet James Broughton.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 3 stars

‘Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton,’ a documentary directed by Stephen Silha, Eric Slade and Dawn Logsdon. 83 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains sexuality and nudity). Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.

Silha will be present for the 7 p.m. screenings Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Thursday, and will also introduce “Small Joys from James Broughton,” a collection of Broughton’s short films, at 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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“I made films,” James Broughton once said, “to see what my dreams look like.”

The exuberant documentary “Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton” shows us how Broughton, a poet, filmmaker and all-around happy spirit, lived his dreams. A Bay Area resident for most of his life (though he spent his last decade in Port Townsend), Broughton wrote 23 books and made 23 short and often surreal films, excerpts from many of which are seen here. A bed merrily slides down a hillside (soon to host a raucous cast of naked frolickers); a rocking chair sits invitingly in the incoming tide; a whimsically costumed dancer happily writhes.

Broughton’s name wasn’t a household word, and he never meant it to be; “Big Joy” tells us of how he declined, midcareer, an offer to direct a potentially lucrative mainstream film, instead returning to poetry. Though married for many years (and the father of three children, only one of whom speaks here), he found true love at 61, with a 35-years-younger man and fellow filmmaker. The two spent the rest of Broughton’s life together in blissful romantic and artistic collaboration, until his death in 1999 in Port Townsend.

Broughton, who originally wanted to be a dancer, said he settled for “dancing with words”; “Big Joy,” filmed with an irresistibly playful spirit, dances with words, film clips and images from a long and, it seems, mostly joyous life. It’s a fitting send-off for a man who once told an audience, “When in doubt, twirl.”

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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