Not rated. Opens Friday at the Roxie. Also screens Thu., April 30, at the Kabuki, and Wed., May 6, at the PFA as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival.
The San Francisco poet, painter, and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who just turned 90, is a well-traveled citizen of the world, a North Beach character whose tenure predates the Beats, a staunch member of the international left, and a seminal figure in the history of West Coast letters (not least for co-founding City Lights bookstore in 1953). Unfortunately, local photographer and filmmaker Chris Felver has little notion how to weave these disparate but interlinking threads into a compelling narrative, resulting in an audiovisual scrapbook that's more pastiche than portrait. Felver has known and filmed Ferlinghetti for more than 30 years, but their friendship doesn't enrich the film: The director confuses familiarity for intimacy, and offers admiration in lieu of revelation. (He also has an ill-advised tendency toward literalism, illustrating the sequence on the poet's smash collection A Coney Island of the Mind with, I kid you not, vintage amusement park shots.) The documentary's most resonant section revisits the 1956-'57 furor engendered by Ferlinghetti's publication of Allen Ginsberg's Howl, providing a taste of a time when poets were the most dangerous people in America. For a few delicious moments, we're touched instead of told, and inspired rather than informed.