Ferlinghetti

A Film by Christopher Felver

 

Noted photographer and filmmaker Christopher Felver has maintained a friendship with Ferlinghetti for over 30 years. His film includes footage from poetry readings, travels abroad and interviews with Ferlinghetti, as well as commentary from Ginsberg, Dennis Hopper, Dave Eggers, Billy Collins, Michael McClure and others.

 

One of the most powerful moments in Christopher Felver’s portrait of Lawrence Ferlinghetti takes place during

World War II, when the young Navy serviceman found himself walking through the ruins of Nagasaki, less than

two months after the atomic blast. “It made me an instant pacifist,” he says simply. The realization that his own country was capable of such an act, coupled with exposure to radical San Francisco poet Kenneth Rexroth, helped Ferlinghetti forge his path from disillusioned G.I. to philosophical anarchist, bookstore owner and publisher under

the famed City Lights moniker (poet Billy Collins compares City Lights’ impact to “rolling a grenade into a library”) free-speech icon and, eventually, the world’s most-read poet. Felver’s long friendship with Ferlinghetti yields some rare interviews with his subject, supplemented by an impressive set of testimonials from, among others, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, Anne Waldman, Dennis Hopper, Amiri Baraka, Dave Eggers and Jack Hirschman. Deftly interspersing these voices with archival photos, video and audio, Felver vividly reveals a true American literary legend, turning 90 this year and still writing, painting, publishing and speaking out. At the dawn

of the age of television, despite the complacent mood of the nation, a generation of American youth actually

became excited about literature as a means of pushing the culture forward. That powerful contradiction, and the vibrant literary community that continues in San Francisco today, is a direct result of Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

—Jack Boulware

 

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 teacherat-

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, The 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 Hoppers 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 lebe l 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 Me ltzer 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.”