Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder


This was the official website for the 2011 documentary, "Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder", by Christopher Felver. It had a limited run in movie theaters.
Content is from the site's 2009 archived pages as well as from other sources.

Rotten Tomatoes: In this definitive documentary, director Christopher Felver crafts an incisive, sharply wrought portrait that reveals Ferlinghetti's true role as catalyst for numerous literary careers and for the Beat movement itself. One-on-one interviews with Ferlinghetti, made over the course of a decade, touch upon a rich mélange of characters and events that began to unfold in postwar America. These events include the publication of Allen Ginsberg's Howl, William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch, and Jack Kerouac's On the Road, as well as the divisive events of the Vietnam war, the sexual revolution, and this country's perilous march towards intellectual and political bankruptcy.

Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder ~ Documentary Trailer
The poet and painter, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, is among the world's living monuments to arts and letters. For well over a half century, Ferlinghetti helped shape the currents of poetry and literature with his forceful engagement with society and an ideological position that often found him at odds with the political currents of his day. Ferlinghetti's quiet, behind the scenes demeanor and disarming mien may have assuaged, or even fooled, certain opponents, while in reality he was a literary mercenary, a rebel at the forefront of our own cultural revolution.

Feature Documentary
Running Time: 73 minutes
Premiere: San Francisco Intn'l Film Festival - April 28, 2009
The poet and writer Lawrence Ferlinghetti is an iconic presence in the world of arts and letters. For well over half a century he has helped shape the currents of poetry and literature through his forceful engagement with society. Armed with an ideological position that often found him at odds with the political dogma of his day, Ferlinghetti became the best selling poet of the modern era, a literary mercenary and a rebel at the forefront of a cultural revolution.
In this definitive documentary, director Christopher Felver crafts an incisive, sharply wrought portrait that reveals Ferlinghetti's true role as catalyst for numerous literary careers and for the Beat movement itself. Felver's one-on-one interviews with Ferlinghetti, made over the course of a decade, touch upon a rich mélange of characters and events that began to unfold in postwar America. These events include the publication of Allen Ginsberg's Howl, William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch, and Jack Kerouac's On the Road, as well as the divisive events of the Vietnam war, the sexual revolution, and this country's perilous march towards intellectual and political bankruptcy. Since its inception in 1953, Ferlinghetti's City Lights Bookstore quickly became an iconic literary institution that embodied social change and literary freedom. Continuing to thrive for over five decades, it is a cornerstone of America's modern literary and cultural history.
Ferlinghetti explores the world of San Francisco's legendary poet, artist, publisher and civil libertarian. Presenting himself as a living presence in poetry, Mr. Ferlinghetti reads many of his significant poems, discusses his political and social activism, and gives viewers an insight into his public and private life as it unfolds over nine remarkable decades. His ideological identity began to coalesce soon after visiting the ruins of Nagasaki – just weeks after the devastation of the atomic bomb in 1945 – an event which he says transformed him into "an instant pacifist." Ferlinghetti's newfound skepticism regarding the power of the state materialized into his unique brand of political activism shortly after he moved to San Francisco and made the acquaintance of Kenneth Rexroth.
The political principles he infused into his poetry, rooted in anarchist thought and civil libertarianism, quickly spread throughout the world — even cited as one of the primary catalysts of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. Back at home, the Beat Generation's rebellion against the social conservatism of the 1950's jump-started social awareness and permanently impacted the tone and character of American culture. And it was Ferlinghetti's infamous censorship trial – for his publication of Allen Ginsberg's Howl in 1956 – versus the City of San Francisco that launched the social rebellion of the Beats into national consciousness. By winning the trail, Ferlinghetti set a precedent that secured the First Amendment rights of publishing in this country and preserved the freedom of speech in literature. He set the foundation for successive generations of First Amendment activists: the musicians, poets, authors, and filmmakers who continue to protect our freedom of speech today.
The film features archival photographs and historical footage, with appearances by Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Billy Collins, Dennis Hopper, Robert Scheer, Dave Eggers, and Pulitzer Prize winner Gary Snyder. The appearance of numerous other prominent figures from the literary, political, and art community further underscore the enormous social impact Ferlinghetti's legacy continues to have on the American cultural scene. As he reads from A Coney Island of the Mind, Ferlinghetti manifests what it means to be a rebel poet, a renegade publisher and a true bearer of the Whitman tradition. And despite being the bestselling poet in modern literature, his place in the history of American literature was not carved out by his pen alone. With his publishing house at City Lights, he has championed the writings of countless other writers and continues to turn successive generations on to poetry. This film hopes to further educate the general public as to why Lawrence Ferlinghetti is easily one of the preeminent figures of modern political activism and perhaps the most influential artist in the history of American literature since the 1950s.
Chris Felver is a photographer and filmmaker with solo photographic exhibitions at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Torino Fotografia Biennale Internazionale, and Fahey/Klein Gallery in Los Angeles. He participated in the 53rd Venice International Film Festival. The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the New York Public Library, and the Museum of Fine Art in Boston have presented retrospectives of his previous 8 films and his most recent work, Cecil Taylor: All the Notes. A few of Mr. Felver's most notable books of photography are Beat, The Late Great Allen Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti Portrait, and The Importance of Being. His work is collected in libraries and museums worldwide.
Brett Marty is a photographer and filmmaker based in San Francisco, California, from the Department of Art Practice at the University of California, Berkeley. During the 2008 Presidential Campaign, he was on the campaign trail as a documentarty photographer, collaborating with FiveThirtyEight, a political blog currently nominated for Best Political Blog and Blog of the Year for 2008. Collections from his On the Road: Campaign ‘08 series have been exhibited at Harvard Law School, the True/False film festival, and numerous other exhibitions throughout the country. His previous project led him to drive a rusty Buick from San Francisco to Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, to where it now rests in Paraguay.
Rick DePofi Credits: (Producer / Arranger / Musician): The Wreckers' Stand Still, Look Pretty (Grammy + CMA nominations); Joan Osborne's How Sweet It Is; Michelle Branch's Hotel Paper (title track); Shawn Colvin's These Four Walls; Kelly Clarkson's Anymore (Engineer); Elvis Costello's Ring of Fire and Don't Put Her Down (Engineer); Elvis Costello's & Rosann Cash's My Better Years duet (Engineer); Vieux Farka Toure (Engineer); Marc Cohn, Natalie Cole, Janet Jackson, Diana Ross, Grover Washington Jr., Loudon Wainwright III Feature Film Credits (Producer/Arranger/Musician): The Prince & Me, Raising Helen, Silver City, Mind of The Married Man Documentary Feature Film / TV Song Credits (Producer/Arranger/Musician): Marc Cohn's "Man of the World" and "I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love Again" for The Prince & Me (Paramount); Joan Osborne's "Stand Back" for Raising Helen (Touchstone); Joan Osborne's "America The Beautiful" Silver City (Columbia TriStar); Marc Cohn's "I Love My Wife" Mind of The Married Man (HBO).
Bruce Ricker has directed and/or produced documentaries on a wide-ranging study of American culture. In 1982 Ricker started Rhapsody Filmswhich would specialize in making and distributing jazz and blues films. In 1987 he began a collaborative relationship with Clint Eastwood, accumulating a body of work that includes: Tony Bennett: The Music Never Ends; Budd Boetticher: A Man Can Do That; Clint Eastwood's Piano Blues; and Thelonius Monk: Straight No Chaser.
Dave Giles is an artist based in New York. He attended the Center for Creative Studies, Detroit, Michigan and studied graphic design before branching out into filmmaking. His work in advertising has produced award-winning projects for Chevrolet, Yahoo and Google among others. In the documentary film genre his editing skills have won him credited acclaim with films such as Cecil Taylor: All The Notes and Black White and Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe. As the friend and creative right-hand man to director Chris Felver he is looking forward to their next film collaboration on British sculptor Tony Cragg.
DAVID AMRAM started jazz/poetry readings in 1957 at New York’s Circle in the Square with Jack Kerouac and others. He wrote music for the beat classic film Pull My Daisy, and has composed more than 100 orchestral works and scores for Broadway, theater and film. He continues to compose music while traveling the world as a conductor, soloist, band leader and visiting scholar.
AMIRI BARAKA began his career as a writer, activist, and advocate of black culture and political power. His play, The Dutchman, received the Off Broadway award for the best American play of 1963-64. He founded Totem Press, publishing new literary voices of the Beat Generation. His writings continue to denounce racism and advocate scientific socialism.
ERIK BAUERSFELD is a leading American radio dramatist of the post-television era. He was the Director of Drama and Literature at KPFA from 1966 to 1991. Bauersfeld is a long-time friend of Ferlinghetti’s, and has collaborated with Ear Wax Productions on large-scale radio broadcasts for NPR and Pacifica Radio archives.
BILLY COLLINS was born in New York City in 1941. He is the author of several books of poetry and was named U.S. Poet Laureate in 2001. Other honors and awards include fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation.
GIADA DIANO is a scholar and translator, and author of Ferlinghetti’s european biography, Io sono come Omero. She is a professor at l'Università di Messina and l'Università di Cantania in Sicily, and collaborates with City Lights Books on Italian translations.
BOB DYLAN (born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941) is an American singer-songwriter, author, poet, and painter, who has been a major figure in popular music for five decades. Much of Dylan's most celebrated work dates from the 1960s, when he became an informal chronicler and a reluctant figurehead of American unrest. A number of his songs, such as "Blowin' in the Wind" and "The Times They Are a-Changin'," became anthems of both the civil rights movements and of those opposed to the Vietnam War. Dylan's early lyrics incorporated political, social, philosophical, and literary influences, defying existing pop music conventions and appealing widely to the counterculture.
DAVE EGGERS is the founder of McSweeney's, an independent publishing house that produces a quarterly literary journal. Eggers' first book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and his most recent novel, What Is the What, was a nominated for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award. He has established himself as a philanthropist and teacher-at-large at 826 Valencia, a San Francisco-based writing and tutoring lab for young people.
LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI, founder City Lights Books, is a living monument to America's counter-culture. His book, A Coney Island of the Mind, is the most popular volume of poetry in the American literary canon. For well over half a century, he helped shape the currents of poetry and literature through his forceful engagement with society and his ideological position that often found him at odds with the political attitudes of his day. Author of over 50 books of poetry and criticism, Ferlinghetti remains an active presence in the San Francisco literary scene.
LORENZO FERLINGHETTI, the son of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, is an arborist, surfer, and inventor. He lives in Bolinas, CA, with his wife and 2 children.
ALLEN GINSBERG attended Columbia University and where he struck up close friendships with William Burroughs, Neal Cassady, and Jack Kerouac. In 1954 he moved to San Francisco where his mentor, William Carlos Williams, introduced him to key figures of the San Francisco poetry scene. Ginsberg's seminal performance of "Howl" at the Six Gallery reading signaled the birth of the Beat Generation and a new era in modern America poetry. Subsequently, Ferlinghetti, who attended the reading, published Howl, setting the precedent for literary free speech.
HERB GOLD is a novelist, travel writer, and author who studied philosophy at Columbia University where he became involved with the burgeoning Beat Generation. In the 50s he lived in Paris on a Fulbright, and wrote his first novel, The Prospect Before Us. In the 60s, Gold finally settled in San Francisco, where he continues to be a revered fixture in the literary scene.
JACK HIRSCHMAN, renowned author and translator, received a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Indiana University in 1959. His first major book of poetry, A Correspondence of Americans, was published in 1960. While teaching at UCLA, Hirschman protested the war in Vietnam, was fired for his alleged activities against the state, and in 1980 joined a communist labor party. As San Francisco's poet laureate, Hirschman remains an organizer and participant in political activities surrounding issues of homelessness, immigration, and police brutality.
DENNIS HOPPER'S odyssey has been one of Hollywood's longest and strangest trips. As a director, photographer, artist, and Academy Award nominee, he has defined a generation with his body of work. Hopper's association with L.A.'s seminal Ferris Gallery in the 50s brought him lasting friendships with the emerging writers and artists of that era.
JEAN-JACQUES LEBEL is a French conceptualist artist born in Paris. He is a producer of more than 70 shows, performances, and art actions in the 60s across the continent, and continues his pictorial, literary and political activities. In the 60's he translated and published the work of his friends, Ginsberg, Corso, Burroughs, McClure and Ferlinghetti. His work is featured in many European museums.
MICHAEL McCLURE came to San Francisco as a young man. He was quickly drawn into the emerging Beat vortex of the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance, and participated in the legendary 1955 Six Gallery reading. He has a special interest in the animal consciousness that too often lies dormant in mankind. His play, The Beard, received two Obies and sparked numerous censorship and free speech battles. McClure is still active as a poet, essayist, and performs with Ray Manzarek and Terry Riley.
DAVID MELTZER moved to San Francisco in the 50s and became part of a circle of writers surrounding poets Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan. He participated in the legendary Six Gallery reading and is one of the key poets of the Beat Generation. Meltzer is also a jazz guitarist, a Cabalist scholar, and author of more than 50 books of poetry and prose.
BILL MORGAN is a freelance archival consultant, bibliographer and editor, and has worked in close collaboration with Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg. He has published two fascinating guidebooks on the Beat Generation, and his latest book, I Celebrate Myself: The Private Life of Allen Ginsberg, was recently featured in the New York Times.
KENNETH REXROTH, an American poet, translator, and critical essayist, was among the first poets in the US to explore traditional Japanese poetic forms. He identified himself as a philosophical anarchist, and was active in the IWW movement. Rexroth was MC at the Six Gallery reading, and as a result of his KPFA radio broadcasts and literary salons became known as the paterfamillias of the San Francisco Renaissance.
ROBERT SCHEER worked at City Lights Books in San Francisco, and co-authored the book, Cuba: An American tragedy (1964), with Maurice Zeitlin. Between 1964 and 1969, he served as the Vietnam correspondent, managing editor, and editor-in-chief of Ramparts magazine. Scheer is currently editor-in-chief of Truthdig, an on-line magazine he co-launched in 2005. Scheer appears weekly on the nationally syndicated Left, Right & Center.
GARY SNYDER, born in 1930, is an American poet often associated with the Beat Generation and the San Francisco Renaissance. He is an essayist, lecturer, and environmental activist, and was the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for his book of poetry, Turtle Island. Snyder's work reflects an immersion in both Buddhist spirituality and nature. He translates literature into English from ancient Chinese and modern Japanese, and for many years served as a faculty member at the University of California, Davis, as well as on the California Arts Council.
ANNE WALDMAN, a prominent figure in the beat poetry generation, ran the St. Mark's Poetry Project from 1966 until 1978, reading with fellow poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso. Following her departure from St. Mark's, she and Ginsberg founded the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. She has received numerous awards and honors, and remains active as poet, teacher, translator, and editor of anthologies.
GEORGE WHITMAN, Ferlinghetti's oldest friend, is proprietor of the renowned expatriate Paris bookstore, Shakespeare & Co. Since the 50s, the bookstore has provided a sanctuary for hundreds of poets, writers, and artists. Whitman and Ferlinghetti attended the Sorbonne together in the 40s, and have made literature and the avant garde their life-long commitment.
SYLVIA WHITMAN, daughter of Shakespeare & Co. founder George Whitman, inherited her role as proprietor of this famous Beat Generation hangout. She is the director of the annual Shakespeare & Co. Literary Festival, and refers to Ferlinghetti, her father's oldest friend, as her "surrogate parent."



"I learned about the existence of this film from TNG/Earthling's celebrity SEO Bob Sakayama who has been a huge Ferlinghetti fan since his days at Brown (where he was the editor in chief of the literary magazine Taliesin). Just goes to show you that the tech and art worlds share talent and appreciation. This film reveals the poet as an unconscious thought leader who influenced a generation as both an advocate for other voices as well as his own. A great literary resource for the ages!" Daniel Peterson




A Beat-Generation Star Who Won’t Answer to the Name

‘Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder,’ by Christopher Felver

Lawrence Ferlinghetti in “Ferlinghetti.” Credit Chris Felver/First Run Features


Most of his admirers consider the poet, publisher, activist and San Francisco eminence Lawrence Ferlinghetti one of the last major Beat Generation figures standing, but he doesn’t. “Don’t call me a Beat,” he warns in “Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder.” “I never was a Beat poet.”

Perhaps not, but as Christopher Felver’s reverent documentary reminds us, he was not just present at the creation of the Beat Generation, he was also, as the publisher of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” one of its midwives. Moreover, Mr. Ferlinghetti’s 1957 acquittal on obscenity charges stemming from the poem’s language (re-enacted in the 2010 film “Howl”) is credited with igniting the free-speech movement and the counterculture that followed.

That status may overshadow Mr. Ferlinghetti’s own literary prowess: the author of “A Coney Island of the Mind,” he remains among the most popular poets of the modern era.

The film traces his life from circumstances that Mr. Ferlinghetti, 93, genially recalls as “right out of Dickens”: born in Yonkers, he was effectively orphaned and lived with his Aunt Emily in France before moving to Bronxville, N.Y., where Emily was a governess for a wealthy family.

She abruptly ran off when Lawrence was 7, so the family raised him. After serving in the Navy in World War II, he found his way to San Francisco, where he became a founder of City Lights Bookstore in 1953. Indeed, as big a bouquet as the film is to Mr. Ferlinghetti, it is also a mash note to City Lights, a cultural touchstone and North Beach landmark.

Mr. Felver deftly blends old news clips and readings with interviews of writers and artists, among them Billy Collins and Dave Eggers, to define Mr. Ferlinghetti’s place in the pantheon of American letters. This biography is often effusive in its praise, but some lives and legacies were meant for a tribute.


Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder: Film Review

2/7/2013 by Frank Scheck  / Hollywood Reporter

Chris Felver

Christopher Felver's documentary deals with the life and career of the legendary poet and social activist.

Considering that its subject is the iconic poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Christopher Felver’s Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder is surprisingly prosaic. This loving documentary certainly covers all the biographical bases in its subject’s life as well as providing him plenty of opportunity to read from his work. But considering the importance of the still-active 93-year-old poet’s art and social activism, the film seems slight and discursive, more of an introduction than a definitive portrait.

Felver, an acclaimed photographer who’s already made one film about Ferlinghetti, clearly has an affinity for his subject. He wisely allows the poet free rein to provide a running commentary about his event-filled life and career, which includes not only the million-selling collection A Coney Island of the Mind but also the founding of the legendary City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco.

That store’s publishing division provides the film’s most dramatic chapter, the 1957 trial in which Ferlinghetti was charged with obscenity for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s landmark poem Howl. He eventually was acquitted on the grounds that the work had redeeming social value, in a case that laid the groundwork for many First Amendment battles to follow

Ginsberg and such fellow Beat writers as Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and Michael McClure -- Ferlinghetti denied that he was in their ranks -- are given prominent attention in the proceedings. McClure is one of its many interview subjects, who also include Dave Eggers, Anne Waldman, Gary Snyder and the late Dennis Hopper (the film was completed in 2009).

But it’s the irrepressible Ferlinghetti himself who infuses this cinematic portrait with much-needed vibrancy. Whether discussing his Italian immigrant parents, his wartime experiences -- which included going to Nagasaki shortly after the atomic bombing -- his co-founding of the invaluable City Lights Bookstore, his acclaimed work as a painter and the political activism that hit its fever pitch in the Vietnam War-era but continues unabated, he’s an endlessly articulate, engaging presence. And one who deserves a more substantial documentary treatment.

Opens Feb. 8 (First Run Features)
Production: Felver Photography, Physical Features
Director-producer: Christopher Felver
Editor: Brett Marty
Composers: Rick DePofi, David Amram
No rating, 79 minutes



Delightful Surprise Discovered in Maui

2/22/15 Alana H

My wife and I used our forty-fifth wedding anniversary as an excuse to spend two weeks in Maui. We spent hours checking out various luxury Kaanapali rentals before splurging on a penthouse condo at The Whaler - one of the most luxurious Whaler rentals. The Whaler is a high rise condo that sits directly on Kaanapali Beach, the most famous address on Maui according to their promos. The 2,000 square-foot unit faced due west with 360-degree ocean views encompassing Black Rock and the neighbor islands of Lanai and Molokai. It was fantastic. WHile looking through the extensive collection of cds we came across the 2011 documentary, "Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder", by Christopher Felver. We had never seen it in the theater, but apparently it had only a limited run. I remember Ferlinghetti from my college day. Really loved his poetry. And he was so crucial to the Beat generation and to freedom of speech think mid 1950 America, thanks to the obscenity trial of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl". One evening during our stay on Maui, my wife and I settled down to watch it. His early life is right out of a Dicken's novel. I really enjoyed how he was given free rein to provide a running commentary about his event-filled life and career. The irrepressible Ferlinghetti infuses this cinematic portrait with much-needed vibrancy. Ferlinghetti is an endlessly articulate, engaging presence. What a delight.




'Ferlinghetti' explores the remarkable life of the poet-painter-activist

Lawrence Ferlinghetti is the subject of a documentary that encompasses, among other topics, the history of the Beats and his City Lights Bookstore.

By Peter Rainer, Film critic February 8, 2013 / Christian Science Monitor

Henny Ray Abrams/AP

The poet-painter-activist Lawrence Ferlinghetti is the subject of a wide-ranging knockabout jamboree of a documentary about his life, appropriately titled “Ferlinghetti.” Director Christopher Felver has brought to rousing life through the use of archival clips and interviews the “Mayor of North Beach,” the founder of San Francisco’s legendary City Lights bookstore and publishing house, and the author of the iconic, mega-bestselling 1958 poetry collection “A Coney Island of the Mind.”

Still going strong in his 90s, Ferlinghetti has lived a life that encompasses, along with so much else, the history of the Beats and the lives of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg (whose poem “Howl” he famously and successfully defended against charges of obscenity). Ferlinghetti’s home-brewed brand of anarchism is weirdly as American as apple pie. Even if you regard him now as a superannuated hippie, his contribution to the culture of American letters is undeniable, and City Lights – the store and the imprint – could well be the closest thing to a literary shrine that we possess. Grade: B+ (Unrated.)



Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth Of Wonder’ review

By .A. Musetto February 8, 2013 | NYPOST

‘A brave man and a brave poet.” That’s Bob Dylan talking about Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet, painter, publisher, anarchist, civil

Now a feisty 93, Ferlinghetti helped start the legendary City Lights bookstore in San Francisco in 1953 (it has since been declared a historic landmark by Frisco officials), and fought relentlessly for publication of William S. Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch,” D.H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” and other controversial books.

Dennis Hopper is another of the talking heads who praise Ferlinghetti. And the poet himself has much to say in interviews recorded over the past decade. “So now’s the time for you to speak before they come for you, oh silent majority,” he warns at the film’s conclusion. With Americans’ civil liberties under constant threat, it’s comforting to know that Ferlinghetti is still with us.




Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder

February 8, 2013 | Rating: 1.5/4
by Chuck Bow Slant Magazine

The exploits of poet, publisher, and activist Lawrence Ferlinghetti are undeniably relevant to a society that seemingly measures an artist’s success by his or her ability to nab a six- or seven-figure Coke or Capital One endorsement. Refusing to accept national grants to aid his self-published work and protesting America’s endless involvement in various war efforts before it was hip to do so, Ferlinghetti is a bracing affirmation of the possibility that we don’t necessarily have to entirely compromise ourselves in an effort to function in an aggressively capitalist society.

Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder, sadly, isn’t the film to preserve Ferlinghetti’s legacy for the YouTube and iPod generation. It’s clear that director Christopher Felver holds Ferlinghetti in high esteem (he previously directed The Coney Island of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and has written a volume called Ferlinghetti Portrait), but that passion clouds his judgment, as the doc waffles between two incompatible structures. At times, the film is a mixture of varying forms of multimedia (archive footage, interviews, spoken verse) that recalls Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s Howl in its effort to approximate the free-associative energy of the work of Ferlinghetti and the subsequent Beat legends he championed and mentored. At other times, Felver follows an elderly Ferlinghetti around as he visits with his family and reads verses aloud in a nostalgic gambit that recalls the Gary Snyder documentary The Practice of the Wild.

Though flawed, Howl managed to fleetingly capture the restless torment and rage that was almost certainly a driving force of the Beat movement, while The Practice of the Wild poignantly elaborated on the hard-won grace and contentment of a legend. But melding these methods together in the same film manages to render their respective potentials for empathy moot. The risks Ferlinghetti undertook throughout his life, particularly his decision to publish Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, are drained of their urgency by the footage of a contemporary Ferlinghetti watching his grown son blow out a birthday cake; the legend’s ultimate victories contextually appear to have been preordained. And the potential resonance of seeing a crusader of advancing years coming to a resigned and ambiguous rest is compromised by the occasional flashback to headier, more exhilarating times.

Felver adequately covers the highlights of Ferlinghetti’s life (his childhood abroad, his dawning political engagement, the opening of his City Lights Bookstore, etc.), but the film’s failures are more galling than they otherwise might be because it’s distressingly easy to imagine a contemporary teen rolling his or her eyes at the irrelevancy of these old fogies with their chants and beards and paperback books. This film is ultimately too rote and chaotic, too dull, to appeal to the imaginations of a generation that might not, tragically, grasp the loss of community that’s been engendered by the continuing evolution of social technology, by the everyday citizen’s increasingly insatiable hunger for gadgets at the expense of political engagement. Felver is too reverent to properly convey the invigoratingly profane, angry messiness of the sense of community that Ferlinghetti and his peers too briefly brought to life.



Film Review: Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder

Loving documentary about one of the greatest, and still wonderfully extant, poetic and political forces of our time.

Feb 7, 2013
David Noh Film Journal International

Ferlinghetti is a glowing account of the exemplary life of the ever-groundbreaking San Francisco poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who, at 93, still writes, paints and runs the legendary City Lights bookstore in San Francisco. Christopher Felver’s documentary is awash in admiration of the artist—not one negative thing is broached about him—and if this is hagiography, then so be it, such is the man’s sterling reputation as an independent-minded pacifist and boon to countless others, both politically and artistically.

Ferlinghetti’s difficult early years as a displaced child who once even served prison time for the theft of some pencils are covered and reveal a life which he himself describes as “Dickensian.” He served in World War II, and seeing what went down at Nagasaki instantly made him a lifelong peacenik. He received a literary doctorate from the Sorbonne (and was eventually made a Commandeur of Arts and Letters in France), found a foothold in publishing and eventually opened his shop, which brought inexpensive, portable paperbacks to the reading public and became Ground Zero for the artistic ferment that was happening in San Francisco in the 1950s. It was there that a warrant was put out for his arrest for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl,” which had been deemed obscene; his victorious censorship battle waged thereafter freed up the release of other controversial works like Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Tropic of Capricorn.

All the while, Ferlinghetti hung with Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and BFF George Whitman (who opened the like-minded Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris), wrote his distinctively accessible poems, and made paintings which further illustrated his favored themes of artistic freedom of expression and questioning of the status quo. His poetry collection A Coney Island of the Mind (1958) has sold over a million copies, making him, in the words of many of the vibrant interviewees assembled herein, the most popular poet of his time. Their number includes Amiri Baraka, Dennis Hopper, Kenneth Rexroth, Herb Gold, Michael McClure, Dave Eggers and other artistic lights.

Handsome and irascible as ever, Ferlinghetti here reads a lot of his work in a still stirringly impassioned voice, and continues his crusade of political protest, posting signs in his store like “The Middle East is Obama’s Vietnam.” One may have wished for more information about his personal life and intimate relationships, but such is the richness of his creative journey and Felver’s coverage of it that you don’t even realize this lack until long after seeing the film.