Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder (NR)

Documentary 79 February 8, 2013
By Alan Scherstuhl
Curiously arhythmic for a film about a jazz-loving poet, and curiously politic for one about an artist who has declared himself "a born non-violent enemy of the state," Christopher Felver's stumbling hagiography Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder does no wrong by its celebrated subject-- but it never illuminates him, either. It's arresting, of course, to watch Lawrence Ferlinghetti stalk about San Francisco's North Beach and his own City Lights Books, the store and upstart publishing house whose Columbus Avenue intersection is deemed by historian Kevin Starr "the address of the First Amendment." Seeing Ferlinghetti read familiar (and new) poems is likewise a pleasure that can't be discounted. But the film's abbreviated treatment of the poet's culture-shaping life-- the obscenity trial over City Lights' publication of Allen Ginsberg's Howl; Ferlinghetti's denunciation of "the short-haired hyenas of American business" in Sandinista-era Nicaragua-- is only enough to pique the curiosity, and maybe send viewers into a place like City Lights for a book on the subject. At a technical level, the film is sometimes difficult to make sense of: Images and words often have little to do with each other, in a use-whatever-footage-we-have way rather than an arty meanings-are-shifting one. For some reason, every couple of minutes the movie comes to a full stop and fades to black before starting up again, which makes many moments feel like the ending. The actual ending, though, feels arbitrary, only signaled by sudden credits—the feeling is like realizing that a poem has ended only after you've turned the page.
Christopher Felver Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, Dennis Hopper, Billy Collins, Michael McClure, Amiri Baraka, David Amram, Jean-Jacques Lebel, Jack Hirschman, Herbert Gold Christopher Felver First Run Features

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