Documentary on Allen Ginsberg does the poet justice

April 16, 1994|By Scott Timberg | Scott Timberg,Contributing Writer

The best moments in "The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg" are the unlikeliest.

In a battered brown jacket, jeans and a long, black beard, Mr. Ginsberg sits across from William F. Buckley, clean-shaven and wearing a thin-lapeled blue suit. Mr. Buckley tosses a question to the poet, and Mr. Ginsberg quickly announces that he'd prefer to read a poem.

He brags that he wrote the poem on LSD. Mr. Buckley tries to maintain his composure. "Under the influence?" he asks, incredulous. Mr. Ginsberg concedes that it is so. As he reads, Mr. Buckley nods, smile and charm intact. "Nice," he says.

The rest of this film doesn't show the clash of worlds as well as the "Firing Line" shots. But most of it is fun, briskly paced and revealing:

* Mr. Ginsberg being elected "King of May" in Prague, 1965, then deported for corrupting the youth;

* Mr. Ginsberg strolling off-screen after the filming of one of the first-ever rock videos, Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues";

* Mr. Ginsberg putting a flower in the lapel of an English bobby who came to arrest him at a London peace demonstration;

* Mr. Ginsberg remembering coming out of the closet to Jack Kerouac by telling him he loved him; and how Kerouac, the gruff, no-nonsense, lower-middle-class kid from Lowell, Mass., grunted in response.

He could be self-righteous, self-indulgent, even ridiculous, but at his height Mr. Ginsberg was not only America's best-known poet but a prophet of the young, the recognizable face of bohemia.

The film includes interviews with Norman Mailer, Joan Baez, Timothy Leary, William S. Burroughs, Amiri Baraka and Ken Kesey.

But it doesn't take the time to do all it could. The old shots of Kerouac, Neal Cassady and 1940s Times Square, and the strains of "Hot House," will whet the appetites of fans of the Beat era. But the film provides a more complete picture of Mr. Ginsberg's life than the tumultuous times in which he's lived.

The film's finest quote comes from Ms. Baez: "Allen could behave like a nut, but he was serious about something. He was very colorful and very crazy. And we need that."


What: "The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg"

Where: Baltimore International Film Festival, Baltimore Museum of Art

When: 7 p.m. tomorrow

Cost: $6

Call: (410) 235-0100

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