Allen Ginsberg isn’t the only beat poet to get the big-screen treatment this season. While Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s Howl intercut illustrated readings of its titular poem with a re-creation of the legal battles surrounding that work, The Practice of the Wild, John Healey’s 52-minute profile of Gary Snyder, represents a much more appealingly modest proposition. Best known for appearing as Japhy Ryder in Jack Kerouac’s roman-à-clef The Dharma Bums as well as for his own Zen-inflected ecologically committed poetry, the now-80-year-old Snyder appears onscreen as a distinguished, if still vital, graybeard. Whether reading selections from his collected verse or chatting with novelist and old friend Jim Harrison about such subjects as his longtime residence in Japan, his aversion to public life, and his vision of a world out of balance, Snyder’s registers as a keen and always curious intelligence. No less a mishmash than Epstein and Friedman’s film, Healey’s document mixes in some vaguely illuminating chunks of talking-head commentary and a few snippets of choice archival footage, but nothing feels strained. The film’s as relaxed and unhurried as a beat blissing out on some choice weed, as Zen as the brand of Buddhism that Snyder helped bring to the American consciousness.
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