THE OUTSIDERS OF NEW ORLEANS – LOUJON PRESS (2007)
Featuring Louise “Gypsy Lou” Webb, Jon Edgar Webb, Wayne Ewing and the voice of Charles Bukowski.
Directed by Wayne Ewing.
Distributed by Wayne Ewing Films. 58 minutes. Not Rated.
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 New Orleans.
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.
The 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 Miller’s letters).
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 for the New Orleans artistic community. One of the most interesting scenes has Gypsy visiting with a woman who has turned her shop into an unofficial museum 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.