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.
ABOUT THE PRODUCER/DIRECTOR
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.
ABOUT THE EDITOR / CREATIVE DIRECTOR
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.
ABOUT THE COMPOSER
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).
ABOUT THE CO-PRODUCER
Bruce Ricker has directed and/or produced documentaries on a wide-ranging study of American culture. In 1982 Ricker started Rhapsody Films which 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.
ABOUT THE ART DIRECTOR
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."