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Wholly Communion (1965)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

The Wellington Arch monument on Hyde Park Corner is silhouetted against the sun. In voiceover, poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg read eulogies to the sun.

The Albert Hall. A deep-throated chanting. Various poets are shown before and during the event. Finally, American Beat poet Allen Ginsberg is revealed as the source of the mantra. He is sat bending forward playing thumb-cymbals.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti reads. His poem addresses other poets, some in the theatre - Andre Voznesensky, a Russian poet whose government refused him permission to read; the Czechoslovakian government which had just thrown Ginsberg out of the country.

Michael Horovitz reads a short anti-war poem. The audience take a moment to realise he has finished as he removes the microphone from his neck.

Gregory Corso, filmed in between two poets talking to one another, reads his introverted poem 'Mutation of the Spirit', in which he has a peaceful vision, but is unable to accept it due to being affected by a malaise.

Harry Fainlight reads 'The Spider', a dark and very personal poem describing a bad experience after taking the hallucinogenic drug mescaline. Fainlight is suddenly interrupted by a voice crying from the auditorium, 'Love! Love! Love!' After some searching of the audience the camera rests on the source of the outburst: Dutch poet Simon Vinkenoog, in a state of intoxication. Fainlight invites Vinkenoog to come to the stage, but Vinkenoog ignores him, instead demanding Fainlight to 'Come, man! Come!' before slumping into the arms of the woman sitting next to him. This elicits laughter and cheers from the audience.

Compère Alexander Trocchi approaches the podium and tells Fainlight he will be allowed to finish his poem. Fainlight endures much heckling from the crowd. When he finishes the poem the audience applauds his performance, but when Trocchi returns to the stage to introduce the next poet Fainlight refuses to leave and insists on reading a last poem. The crowd is in uproar, but Trocchi placates them. Once he is permitted to read one further short poem, 'Lark Song', Fainlight attempts to introduce the poem, but is once more heckled by the audience. Eventually he continues to read. Once he is finished, Fainlight again attempts to explain the poem, but is prevented from doing so by Trocchi and others. He is still protesting as the microphone is taken from him and Ginsberg drags him down to sit at the edge of the stage.

Adrian Mitchell reads 'To Whom it May Concern', a poem against the Vietnam War.

Christopher Logue reads a pithy poem about the self-destructive urges of human civilisation.

Alexander Trocchi reads excerpts from his novel Cain's Book. The passage explains the influence of heroin addiction on his writing and his perception of time.

Austrian poet Ernst Jandl reads a sound-poem. The succession of jagged syncopated consonants elicits much laughter. For his final poem Jandl is joined on stage, by Michael Horovitz and another poet, for a madcap group performance of 'Fury of Sneezing', a sound-poem written by Kurt Schwitters, which elicits riotous laughter.

In a ranting, prophetic performance, Allen Ginsberg begins by reading Andre Voznesensky's poem 'The Three Cornered Pear/America', which is addressed to the Russian. As he finishes the first poem, he sardonically invites Voznesensky to come up and read, knowing well that the Russian is unable to oblige. Ginsberg complains in a drunken drawl that he has to navigate through 'bad poetry.' He next reads a then unpublished poem, 'The Change', a droning series of apocalyptic visions. As Ginsberg performs, a girl in sunglasses playing with cards and flowers can be seen moving in time to the poem's cadences. The audience applauds and Ginsberg and the girl momentarily appear in a negative flash-frame. Ginsberg performs 'Who Be Kind To', a similarly apocalyptic tirade. As the screen fades to black, Ginsberg can be heard complaining that he has lost his poetry book.