Portolano: A Film About Jack Mueller (Fall 2018)
Directed by Kyle Harvey
Documentary / 53 min
Portolano weaves together interviews with literary icons such as Neeli Cherkovski and Jack Hirschman, archival photographs, audio recordings and ephemera of the legendary North Beach, San Francisco scene of the 70’s and 80’s to create a vibrant, poetic portrait of Jack Mueller.
Mueller was a poet, educator, organizer, ocean sailor, mountain climber and cultural leader in the arts. In the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, Mueller gained a reputation among the post-Beat poets in the Bay Area literary scene with his readings and cultural performances. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, renowned poet and co-founder of the landmark City Lights bookstore in San Francisco, said, “Jack Mueller is the biggest-hearted poet I have ever known.”
Jack Mueller moved water, moved digital trillions. No less to more than a guess, Jack was the new molecule of free speech, changing worlds by changing meanings. In his life, he was many things–literary icon, poet, cultural organizer, educator and sailor. He once made a Mohave coyote eat his own shit.
He used to call me late at night, his basso profundo voice rumbling beyond an evening of cocktails, sagging the lines to rattle the small speaker in my cell phone. He’d often say something like, “I lost another tooth today. It fell, splashing into my soup,” or, “I just lost one of my front teeth.” He was always revising the details, adding notes to his portolan.
In April of 2017, Jack Mueller, renowned poet of San Francisco, New Orleans, and the Western Slope of Colorado, died in Grand Junction, Colorado, of cancer, at the age of 74.
Here in the West, the light always seems to run out of land. Though Jack’s was no different, his flame is kept lit by the many he has touched.
“Jack Mueller is the biggest-hearted poet I have ever known,” said Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Lights in San Francisco.
A fixture in the ‘70s/80’s San Francisco scene, Jack could often be found holding court in the bars and cafes of North Beach. Artist Agneta Falk Hirschman reminisced on his charismatic magnetism, saying, “His presence is very much still felt here.”
In his 15-year role as the Executive Director and Chairman of The National Poetry Association, he organized thousands of readings, performances and festivals, eventually being named one of the best cultural organizers in the Bay area. Bukowski biographer and torch-keeping poet Neeli Cherkovski recalls his close friend fondly, “Jack Mueller remains a literary hero in North Beach. He Has left many influential poems to be read and treasured. He illuminated the San Francisco streets in the ‘70s and ‘80s.”
Along with San Francisco poet laureate Jack Hirschman and artist Kristen Wetterhahn, Mueller founded the Union of Street Poets in San Francisco. “He was responsible for thousands of poems reaching people in their daily goings. Jack was a true comrade and is much beloved,” said Hirschman.
In the early 2000s, Jack moved to Ridgway, Colorado, where he continued to encourage, challenge and inspire those around him. Poet and publisher Danny Rosen said, “In addition to the wide impact Jack Mueller had on poets throughout Colorado, he was also instrumental in the birth of Lithic Press, which arose from the manuscripts and loose papers piled on his dining room table. It seemed obvious I should make books of his chaotic gatherings.”
Similarly, it felt obvious to me that I should make a film about Jack. And so it was, and so I did. With the help of Danny Rosen, some camera gear was purchased, along with a ticket to San Francisco.
Through interviews with literary icons such as Neeli Cherkovski and Jack Hirschman, archival photographs, audio recordings and ephemera of the legendary North Beach, San Francisco scene of the 70’s and 80’s Portolano weaves together a vibrant, poetic portrait of Jack Mueller.
Behind the scenes…