The Outsiders of New Orleans - Loujon
This short documentary pays
tribute to LouJon Press, a little-known self-run publishing house that in a
small way helped to create the Beat movement. Created and run by a
couple of struggling artists -- Jon Edgar Webb was an aspiring
short story writer and his wife Louise "Gypsy Lou" Webb kept the couple and
the company mostly afloat by selling her paintings in the French Quarter of
The company's output was
limited -- they produced four of their Outsider literary magazines and four books in
the ten years that the couple toiled over the printing presses.
However, with the first two books, they championed an unknown poet named
Charles Bukowski -- who soon became a legendary outsider off the work he
did. Outsider -- beyond offering a venue for Jon Edgar Webb's
own writings -- also was one of the first places where many major Beat writers
received legitimate publication.
LouJon books, particularly the Henry Miller "exclusives" which made up their last
two book releases, were as well known for their meticulous and creative
book-crafting as the actual writing (which were essentially collections of
Jon is long dead, but Gypsy Lou is a charming
guide to the past and a rather modest one as well -- even after she is left
homeless by Hurricane Katrina. She openly credits
Jon for the artistic vision of the company, calling herself more of a
craftswoman who was just there to help to painstakingly create the books
which Webb imagined.
This is particularly
amazing because they were all made completely by hand. In fact, the
first Outsider was essentially printed 100% by mimeograph machine.
Later they were able to borrow printing presses. Much of the time,
true to her nickname, Gypsy, Jon and their dogs were squatting at places or
moving from home to home, sometimes city to city.
It's a fascinating story
and Gypsy tells it well. However as with so many
women of her advanced age, she does have a tendency to get overly nostalgic
about things and just a touch morose about life and mortality. (She
almost inevitably sadly brings up the fact that whomever she happens to be
discussing at any point in the film has since died.)
The film is made by Wayne
Ewing, a director who was a close friend of Hunter S. Thompson. Ewing
also documented Thompson in three films in recent years, Breakfast With
Hunter (2003), When I Die (2004) and Free Lisl: Fear and
Loathing in Denver (2006).
Ewing obviously has a great
love of the New Orleans artistic community. One of the most interesting
scenes has Gypsy visiting with a woman who has turned her shop into an
of Big Easy art. (It held an extra thrill for me, because I'm fairly
sure I saw one or two pieces by J. Carl Hancock -- a fairly well-known
artist in the area who worked just a hair before Gypsy's time and just
happens to be my great uncle -- amongst the menagerie of local art.)
And yet as much as he loves
the work of the company, the film does not
turn a blind eye to the negatives. Interestingly it is pointed out by
one of the talking head interviewees that Henry Miller was never quite
comfortable with LouJon's special edition of his Insomnia -- finding it a
little too frilly and busy for his tastes.
In the end, the books of
LouJon never really made money, but they were highly influential.
While they didn't sell that much originally, now the original books have
become prized collector's items.
Gypsy Lou Webb may have
been sort of a fringe character in a literary revolution, but I'm glad that
she is around to tell her intriguing life story.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: November 5, 2007.