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Film

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The first 30 seconds of Jerry Aronson’s intractably straightforward bio-doc (made in 1993) pretty much sum up Ginsberg’s career. A Ginsberg voice-over begins poetically, if simply, “The weight of the world is love” (we see a montage of boyhood photos) and slowly devolves to the inept “warm bodies shine together in the darkness” (cut to the elder bug-eyed poet). There’s little here for those who know the story. Formative experiences are duly recounted—his mother’s madness; Kerouac pulling close in bed the virginal, closeted 19-year-old; first love (Peter Orlovsky); LSD—by family members, Tim Leary, Mailer, et al., and Ginsberg himself (mostly through his reading of poems that we could just as easily look up in our anthology). The Howl hearings don’t make the cut; the only real drama comes when Ginsberg squares off with William F. Buckley on Firing Line, answering his condescension with acid doggerel and harmonium-backed “Hare Krishna” chants. Yet Ginsberg triumphs at Chicago, a voice of reason during the tumult and after. Plausible contemporary parallels come to the fore: The left, busy attacking Humphrey, “didn’t [vote] in 1968,” says Ginsberg, “and Nixon squeaked in by half a million votes, and the war went on for another six years, with more murder and devastation than ever before.”

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