Lawrence Ferlinghetti is more pre-Beat than Beat. In fact, it would be completely accurate to describe Ferlinghetti as a catalyst … one of several that provided the infrastructure necessary for Beatnik culture to exist. Ferlinghetti was the first, and – at age 93 – he may very well be the last in a long and storied breed, the likes of which we won’t see again.
Keep in mind, there would be no City Lights had it not been for Lawrence Ferlinghetti. There would be no Howl, and perhaps no Allen Ginsberg. There would be no Coney Island of the Mind, no platinum-selling asshole named Bukowski, no “Sometime During Eternity“. Ferlinghetti laid the groundwork for it all. In the process, he stood up to every worthwhile form of social injustice from racism to sexism; classism to censorship. And yet, by all accounts, Lawrence Ferlinghetti was a peaceful man … the prototypical Zen fool who needed to go off and fight in one war if only that he should condemn all of the others.
Ferlinghetti was a patriot of the highest order – the ribald kind that considered it not only his right, but his duty to challenge any and all forms of authority. He was that most rare and fortuitous of creatures, a man who comes along at just the right place and time to set the full machinery in order. Despite that, Ferlinghetti was never really one to make a fuss about himself. The man was – and is – a poet, above all else. And poets, well, now, poets are a largely sedentary bunch. It is for this reason that most feature-length films about the Beats (i.e., Howl, On The Road, Kill Your Darlings, etc.) tend to feel like such a disappointment.
The Beats are more given to documentary – an academic medium that lends itself to context. In that spirit, Rebirth of Wonder drills down deep to provide a comprehensive portrait of Ferlinghetti as self-made man, poet, publisher, veteran, activist, spark plug, radical, and revolutionary (just to name a few). And yet, the Catch-22 of it all: If you’re a fervent devotee of Ferlinghetti, chances are you already know most of this stuff to begin with. If you’re not, chances are, you never really cared. Either way, Rebirth of Wonder is kind of like that gifted pair of socks we all received when we were kids: There are gifts that you want, and there are gifts that you need … and – in the long-term – it’s the latter that actually provide a greater return.
(Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder opens this Friday, February 8th at the Quad Cinema in New York City.)