Jon and Louise Webb
The Outsiders of New Orleans: Loujon Press
A new documentary by Wayne Ewing
For more information visit the official website.
Review by Ray Young
Clad in black jacket and beret accented by bold costume jewelry, Louise Webb pauses to chat with a group of young women on the street.
“Are you an artist?” one of them asks.
an artist,” Louise replies.
“Once an artist, you’re always
an artist,” she’s told.
Strolling the streets and alleyways of New Orleans in Wayne Ewing’s The Outsiders of New Orleans: Loujon Press
, Louise, lucid and lively in her nineties, points to the buildings and rooms where she and her late husband Jon Edgar Webb once lived and worked. This hour-long documentary reflects back to her days as a sidewalk artist selling watercolors in the 1950s and ‘60s, when the locals gave her the nickname ‘Gypsy Lou.’ At home, she and Jon ran Loujon Press in their cramped apartment quarters, publishing books by Charles Bukowski and Henry Miller, and editing and publishing Outsider
, a legendary literary review.
Free from all commercial constraints, Loujon regarded publishing as much of an art as the printed word. Their limited editions were lovingly constructed, bold experiments printed on a wide assortment of exotic papers. Going over one of the Miller volumes, Professor Anna Embree of the University of Alabama points out “All the texture and the coloring and the layering…I think it really invites the viewer to want to move forward and see what’s hidden behind each page.”
Indeed, in a world of cost-cutting and mass production, the elaborate Miller tome is a masterpiece. At the University’s Book Arts department, Ewing—director of the excellent Hunter Thompson documentary, Breakfast with Hunter
(2003)—surveys the craftsmanship that went into all the Loujon books, a painstaking system of typesetting, printing and binding performed on equipment that’s virtually obsolete in the digital age. “You have to respect the energy
that’s inside the book,” observes Professor Steve Miller. As the camera glides over the volumes—four books and four editions of Outsider
—that energy, combined with a great deal of passion, becomes the heart of the film.
Other than document a time, place and product, The Outsiders of New Orleans
endeavors to capture the spirit guiding the artist’s hand. Louise may be his star, but Ewing’s film is haunted by Jon and the creativity which drifted through the French Quarter just after World War II. A little-known novelist and detective magazine scribe, Jon learned the mechanics of his craft while editing and printing the prison newspaper during a three-year sentence for robbery. Once released from jail, he envisioned an alternative press specifically designed for the Beats and other literary outsiders. Its first issue published in 1961, Outsider
offered poetry by Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and lifted Bukowski from obscurity. By the end of the decade, Miller himself approached Loujon to handle his later work.
“It takes work, and it takes a dedication to something other than self,” art collector Ben Toledano says of the Webb’s fortitude. Throughout the years he and book collector Edwin Blair have remained friends with Louise—particularly Blair, who recently auctioned some valuable Loujon originals to contribute to her retirement fund. Ewing recognizes the inherent bond between them and their community, the ghosts of an innocent time that’s been slowly vaporizing with the passing generations. Grainy home movies of Louise on the streets of New Orleans from the early 1960s are colored by a distance imposed by time, change and evolution.
Ewing’s film has been released shortly after the publication of Jeff Weddle’s excellent and comprehensive book, Bohemian New Orleans: The Story of the Outsider and Loujon Press
(University Press of Mississippi, 2007), and together they’ve instigated a flurry of Loujon-mania. (Another member of the University of Alabama faculty, Weddle also appears in the movie.) Theirs is a journey into a small, esoteric branch of American literature, with Louise rising from its shadows. An engaging presence and amusing onscreen guide, she appears grateful and humbled by the adulation more than thirty-five years after Loujon published its last book.
The Outsiders of New Orleans: Loujon Press. Directed by Wayne Ewing. With Louise Webb, Jon Webb, Jr., Douglas Brinkley, and audio clips of Charles Bukowski. 56 minutes. Released in 2007. For more from Wayne Ewing, click here.
Copyright © 2007 by Ray Young