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'Ferlinghetti' explores the remarkable life of the poet-painter-activist

Lawrence Ferlinghetti is the subject of a documentary that encompasses, among other topics, the history of the Beats and his City Lights Bookstore.

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Lawrence Ferlinghetti is the founder of San Francisco's legendary City Lights Bookstore.

Henny Ray Abrams/AP

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The poet-painter-activist Lawrence Ferlinghetti is the subject of a wide-ranging knockabout jamboree of a documentary about his life, appropriately titled “Ferlinghetti.” Director Christopher Felver has brought to rousing life through the use of archival clips and interviews the “Mayor of North Beach,” the founder of San Francisco’s legendary City Lights bookstore and publishing house, and the author of the iconic, mega-bestselling 1958 poetry collection “A Coney Island of the Mind.”

Still going strong in his 90s, Ferlinghetti has lived a life that encompasses, along with so much else, the history of the Beats and the lives of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg (whose poem “Howl” he famously and successfully defended against charges of obscenity). Ferlinghetti’s home-brewed brand of anarchism is weirdly as American as apple pie. Even if you regard him now as a superannuated hippie, his contribution to the culture of American letters is undeniable, and City Lights – the store and the imprint – could well be the closest thing to a literary shrine that we possess. Grade: B+ (Unrated.)

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