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Under the Radar DVD of the Week: 'Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder'

Dennis King Published: June 10, 2013

This week, the oddest DVD to appear on release lists is:

“Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder”

Of all the writers and activists associated with the Beat Generation of the 1950s, Lawrence Ferlinghetti is certainly among the most flamboyant and enduring. Still blowing and going at 93, he’s the subject of a hugely entertaining documentary, “Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder” (due out on DVD Tuesday).

This 2009 film from director Christopher Felver is an affectionate celebration of Ferlinghetti’s dramatic, knockabout life, his still-popular poetry and his landmark bookstore, City Lights Books in San Francisco’s bohemian North Beach district.

While Ferlinghetti balks at the label “Beat poet” for himself, he was certainly one of the postwar literary movement’s founding fathers. He opened City Lights in 1953, and it quickly became a seedbed for the restless band of writers who would become the Beats.

As the publisher of Allen Ginsberg’s epic poem “Howl,” Ferlinghetti – who withstood a lengthy obscenity prosecution in its defense – is largely credited with fostering the free-speech movement and the counterculture upheaval that followed. He also was influential in other seminal works of the era, including Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” and William Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch.” And as author of “A Coney Island of the Mind” and other collections, he’s still among the Beats’ most widely read poets.

Felver encapsulates Ferlinghetti’s Dickensian childhood in a colorful narrative of news clips, readings and anecdotes from the author and packs the film with pithy commentary from cultural notables, including Ginsberg, poets Gary Snyder and Amiri Baraka, playwright Michael McClure, actor Dennis Hopper, Bob Dylan, writer Dave Eggers and former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins.

Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder” is not rated and runs 79 minutes. It’s being released by First Look Features.

- Dennis King