Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Inside the Outsider: A Film Review of The Outsiders of New Orleans: Loujon Press

Below is a recent film review I wrote on the documentary The Outsiders of New Orleans: Loujon Press. The review can can also be viewed at www.mirandamagazine.com, an online literary website.

What were your thoughts on the review. I welcome any feedback.

Meet Louise “Gypsy Lou” Webb, now in her nineties and on a street somewhere in the French Quarter, she’s wearing her signature black beret, a dazzling red turtleneck, with an eccentrically trimmed black over shirt and holding a cane. She sees a building where she and her late husband Jon Edgar Webb used to live, and stops to point out a tid bit fact about how they ended up in New Orleans. As her story unfolds you come to learn what it meant to be an outsider and how it affected artists like the Webbs.

New Orleans is the backdrop in Wayne Ewing’s, documentary, The Outsiders of New Orleans: Loujon Press. A city rich in history and architecture that is also known, as a southern mecca for food, music, and art was a haven for Louise and Jon as well as other artists. Ewing gives a brief historical perspective that touches on the reasons why New Orleans became a stomping ground for so many writers through the 1940s to the 1960s.

The story is easy to follow, the tone is bland, but don’t let that deceive you into thinking there’s nothing to draw you in. There are many interesting characters in this documentary and you’ll be introduced to them through Gypsy Lou. Ninety something and with a sharp, steadfast memory she strongly carries this film and is its heart and soul.

According to Louise, artists in New Orleans could live how they wanted to live; they made their own rules and did what they wanted to do. Through interviews, photos, and old film footage you’ll see that the Webbs were full-time artists who sacrificed for their art and lived “free.”

During the day she peddled watercolor painting on the sidewalks in the French Quarter. A local newspaper reporter nicknamed her “Gypsy Lou” because of her unconventional style or clothing. She welcomed the title. It suited her. At home, she and John worked long tiresome hours to publish Loujon Press in their cramped apartment. They produced books by Charles Bukowski and Henry Miller as well as edited and published the literary review the Outsider, an alternative to mainstream literature. She and Jon kept this routine for 19 years; taking their work with them when they relocated to other cities.

Gypsy Lou’s poignant memories of her late husband illustrate the depth and passion they both had for their craft. The two were inseparable and dedicated to one another. Jon, a short story writer, learned how to use a printing press during a three-year prison sentence, where he edited and published The New Day, a prison newspaper. After his release, Dial Press published his novel, Four Steps to the Wall and he made money on the side writing for detective magazines, but in 1961 his vision for the Beats and other literary outsiders became a reality with 3,000 copies of the Outsider, the first edition totaling 125 pages.

An examination of the craftsmanship of Louise and Jon’s work on the Outsider and other publications is also incorporated into the film. Professor Steve Miller, who teaches hand press publishing production at the University of Alabama, shows a printing press that was the same type Jon and Louise used. Today, students at the university learn the basics of printing on the same machine. Commentary from students and printing experts drive the point home that Louise and Jon exhibited an acute attention to detail and worked long hours to create their literary masterpieces.

There are many areas this documentary can delve into, but Ewing directorial instincts keep the film on track. The film maintains its focus on its narrator, Louise Webb and the history of publishing literary works like the Outsiders.

For those viewers who may be familiar with this subject, this documentary pays homage to Louise and Jon Webb, two dynamic, prolific, self-publishing artists, who set the bar high, for which they will be remembered. For those of you who come to the documentary with little or no knowledge of this subject, you’ll gain insight to Loujon Press, its founders, their history, and what it meant to be an outsider.

1 comment:

Weddle said...

Hey Aaliyah:

Great review! I wrote Bohemian New Orleans: The Story of the Outsider and Loujon Press, which helped inspire Wayne's film. Just wanted you to know how much I appreciate your very perceptive and generous review.

All best,
Jeff Weddle