The Outsiders of New Orleans: Loujon Press, A Film Review

The Outsiders of New Orleans: Loujon Press, A Film Review

Reviews, Vol. 1.3, Dec. 2007
From Wayne Ewing Films
Review by Cynthia Reeser

The Outsiders of New Orleans was produced by a regular of the Starz Denver Film Festival. Wayne Ewing, whose productions include Breakfast with Hunter, Remembering Hunter and Free Lisl, premiered The Outsiders of New Orleans: Loujon Press at the festival on Nov. 11.

Jon and Louise “Gypsy Lou” Webb, founders of Loujon Press in 1961, knew what it meant to sacrifice everything for art. For them, living the bohemian life in New Orleans meant working closely with William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsburg, Charles Bukowski and Henry Miller. Gypsy Lou remembers those days vibrantly, recalling that during the ‘60s, “people felt free. They could do what they wanted to do — they could paint, they could write.” Gypsy Lou would sell her paintings by day on the corner of St. Peter and Royal for 19 years, returning home to set type while Jon ran the press. Gypsy Lou was unequivocally supportive of Jon and the press. “I loved him,” she said. “I wanted him to do what he wanted to do — he wanted to put out The Outsider. That was his love.”

Of Gypsy Lou, Ben C. Toledano, an art collector, said, “She is a firebrand. She’s a strong, strong character, and she was so very supportive of Jon — it was really rather beautiful that she was so dedicated and devoted to him.”

During a three-year stay in prison, Jon Webb edited The New Day, the prison newspaper. His novel Four Steps to the Wall was written there as well, and was published by Dial Press in 1948, to his first serious acclaim. Webb had worked for The Cleveland News and The Toronto Star, first dipping his hand into the inkwell of publishing in 1961 when Loujon Press produced the first Outsider. The Webbs would go on to publish five issues until the last, 1969, volume.

One of the press’ most lauded efforts was the 1963 printing of Charles Bukowski’s first book, It Catches My Heart in Its Hands, an innovative book that received wide recognition. The Press would go on to publish another of Bukowski’s books, Crucifix in a Deathhand in 1965, as well as two books by Henry Miller. Specialty papers and a dozen of Miller’s watercolor prints were painstakingly incorporated into the boxed book Order and Chaos Chez Hans Reichel, but after Jon and Lou’s hard work and expense, some of the volumes were lost in a flood in Tucson. However, their hard work did not go unrewarded — Loujon Press received a Type Design Corporation Award in typography, type direction and design in 1966 for the elaborately-crafted Miller book.

Jon and Lou Webb were a couple dedicated to one another and to the joint purpose of producing a literary review that would give many then-unknown artists the chance for their work to be published in a high quality journal. For Bukowski, Loujon Press would publish his first two books of poetry; for Miller, Burroughs, Ginsburg and others, the press was an instrument that allowed a different kind of voice to be heard and recognized in a changing literary and political climate. Edwin Blair, a book collector and supporter of the Loujon legacy, acknowledged their dedication: “This was a romantic couple, La bohème, people giving up everything for art — a couple that were devotedly in love with each other.”

Besides telling the story of a vanguard independent press, the film indicates the situation of the struggling artist. Those who are passionate enough about their work will make sacrifices, even if it means giving up everything for the promotion and creation of art. With present-day New Orleans as the backdrop, the sights, sounds and people are just as colorful as they have been in New Orleans every time I visit; but with the present-day footage interspersed with scenes from Gypsy Lou and Jon’s heyday, one realizes what a different place it has become.

Though New Orleans has indelibly evolved from the bohemian refuge and avant-garde creative cultural center that it was in the 1960s, as the documentary unfurls bit by bit into the impassioned tale of Gypsy Lou, Jon and what it meant to be a part of Loujon Press, the film is a focal and indisputable point of reference for artists who still make sacrifices for art and literature toward the benefit of their artistic communities. In Toledano’s words, “It takes a dedication to something other than self.”

Dispel by Susan Slaviero

Down Highway 74 by Jason Mott

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