By Karen Kramer
As a documentary filmmaker (and long-time Village resident) I’m always eager to keep alive the legacy of Greenwich Village.
After I made a documentary about Greenwich Village in 2005, I received emails from viewers around the world sharing stories about how influenced they had been by this small place. But what has really surprised me is that when I talk to socially aware artists in their twenties and thirties, they too have been influenced by the history and icons of Greenwich Village. They, too, are now shaping their Spoken Word and political folk music lyrics into weapons for social change, much like Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, and Allen Ginsberg once did.
For the past few years I’ve been working on a new documentary titled Renegade Dreamers. At first it started out to be solely a celebration of the coffee house scene of Bleecker and MacDougal, but soon grew into a story I didn’t expect.
I started out by filming some of the “legends” such as Wavy Gravy. Wavy (formerly Hugh Romney) recalled Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso reading their poetry at the Gaslight Café he managed, where, in a revolutionary move for the time, he invited both poets and folk musicians. Said Wavy, “I remember when Bob Dylan first came in. He was wearing Woody Guthrie’s underwear, and he had a sign on his guitar that said ‘this machine kills Fascists.’“ Other great interviews soon followed.
But in this documentary I really wanted to stress how the young rebel/artists of today—if no longer in Greenwich Village, then perhaps in the outer boroughs—are following in these footsteps.
For the past four years I’ve taken my camera to poetry slams throughout the City where young spoken word artists “spit” their poems about racial profiling and immigration. I also took the camera to open mics, subway platforms, and street rallies where young folk musicians (who even knew they existed?) sang and played for passersby.
At Zuccotti Park, I witnessed how much of the music that spontaneously erupted there paid homage to the early Greenwich Village scene. Twenty-somethings were singing songs by Pete Seeger and Tom Paxton, as well as their own original lyrics against police brutality, globalization, and financial inequities.
We filmed songwriter Matt Pless as he went tirelessly from coffee house to open mics, to parks, following in the footsteps of the early troubadours. One of the highlights of the film is when the legendary David Amram played at the Cornelia Street Café and invited Matt to come on stage with him, uniting the generations.
As soon as we can raise the post-production funds, we’ll be able to start the editing process. For now, we invite readers of WestView to read our full synopsis and see some of the footage on our trailer by visiting www.RenegadeDreamers.com or contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Long live Greenwich Village!