Ferlighetti never attracted the cult followings of his Beat Generation
colleagues, but he notched sales that were comparable or stronger. As a publisher himself, he would appreciate
the latter. Nonetheless, it is clear why
scores of college students are more drawn to Kerouac and Burroughs when
watching Christopher Felver’s slavish documentary profile Ferlighetti: a Rebirth of Wonder (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
co-founded the City Lights Bookstore and associated small press, gaining
instant notoriety when he published Ginsberg’s Howl. Ferlignhetti was
afraid he would have to take one for the team when he was subsequently brought
up on obscenity charges, but the presiding Republican Municipal Judge Clayton
W. Horn confounded expectations when he issued a precedent-setting First Amendment
ruling. Yet, the experience obviously did
not inspire warm feelings of bipartisanship in Ferlinghetti.
Felver spends way too much time on Ferlinghetti the activist, running the risk
of alienating half the audience outside New York and San Francisco. It hardly burnishes the poet’s reputation
either, when first he is laudably dubbed an anarchist and then shown
celebrating authoritarian Latin American regimes. No matter how you look at it, the two are
Michael Polish’s Sundance premiere Big Sur better
serves Ferlinghetti’s image, presenting him as the responsible Beat, portrayed
with quiet sensitivity by Anthony Edwards.
At least the score is snappy, including original music from David Amram,
an apostolic link to Pull My Daisy. Ferlinghetti clearly granted Felver ample
time and access (perhaps too much), as do several of his surviving compatriots,
including fellow poets Michael McClure and Gary Snyder. While Rebirth
offers a credible introduction to Ferlinghetti’s poetry, his painting is
rather shoe-horned into the seventy-nine minute running time.
Still, brevity is always a wise documentary
strategy. Rebirth sounds great, but it is not especially cinematic, mostly
looking like it was shot on a consumer video camera. Not recommended for general audiences, Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder is
strictly for Beat fanatics when it opens this Friday (2/8) in New York at the
Labels: Beat Generation, Documentary, Lawrence Ferlinghetti