Ruth Weiss: The Beat Goddess
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…a tremendous documentary,
If Ruth Weiss had only lived till 10, she would have had an incredible story to tell. If she’d only lived till 30, she would have been cemented as one of the seminal artists of the 20th century. The fact that she lived till 92 (dying just a few weeks ago, August 3, 2020), a performer till the end, she was a living testament to the time that changed America forever.
Fortunately for us, Melody C. Miller has made a tremendous documentary, chronicling the extraordinary life of Ruth Weiss, and as such, has given us all a great gift.
Ruth Weiss always knew she was going to be a poet, even as a little girl. Her harrowing story of fleeing Nazis in 1938 is one hell of a yarn in itself. Finally, the immediate family made their way to Chicago. (All their family, brothers, cousins, parents…everyone was exterminated by the Nazis.)
Weiss was educated in Europe after the war and eventually found her way back to the States. She was drawn to San Francisco as the non-conformist Beat Generation was taking shape. As things happen (we won’t spoil the story for you), her poetry was set to jazz music. She became a performer, reading her poetry live on stage, as the musicians improvised to the lilt of her poem.
Everything we take for granted these days; gay rights, environmental activism, women’s liberation, all have roots in the Beat era of the 1950s. Women were supposed to be homemakers; have the martini ready when hubby came home after a tough day at the office. Weiss broke the mould. She was a performance artist, never a good little seen-but-not-heard wife.
She boldly had green hair in the ‘50s, something beyond unique. In her 90s, she sports green hair again, without a doubletake from anyone. Something she wouldn’t have been able to get in the ‘50s was matching nail polish.
None of us today can imagine how hard it must have been as a woman, how strong she must have been to be heard, how powerful her message was. At a time when women weren’t even published, this goddess cut through the noise.
Weiss regales us with stories of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac; she was an integral part of that revolutionary time. One can only imagine how exciting it must have been to be a part of that, but Weiss does a splendid job of taking us back there.
If filmmaker Melody C. Miller had not had the foresight to tell this story, all of that wonderful oral history would have been lost. It was the Beat Generation that progressed to the ‘60s Hippy revolution. Tune in, drop out, make love, not war. None of these ‘60s messages would have existed without the Beat Generation.
Thanks to Weiss’ longevity and Miller’s foresight, we have a first-hand look at the movement that changed the world.