Karen Kramer lives a stone’s throw from the intersection of Bleecker and MacDougal streets in Greenwich Village and has always been drawn to the Beat history that came out of that small crossroads. Her new documentary, Renegade Dreamers, celebrates the Beat and folk history that was born in the coffee houses of that legendary neighborhood and how it influenced a nation.
Poets like Allen Ginsberg and Diana di Prima, and so many others read their poetry at places like The Gaslight at 116 MacDougal, a basement hole-in-the wall which was managed by poet Wavy Gravy (then Hugh Romney). Twenty yards away on the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal was the famous San Remo bar where William Burroughs hung out and which was the influence for Kerouac’s novel The Subterraneans. And across from the old San Remo on Bleecker Street is the tenement building where poet Gregory Corso was raised. Kramer scoured photo archives and footage houses for archival material that would help to keep this Beat legacy alive, and she has come up with some wonderful material.
The film takes us further than just the Beat poets, giving us another aspect of the legacy that came out of the Greenwich Village coffee houses. At the time that many of the poets were reading their work at these coffee houses, folk musicians were playing guitar in Washington Square Park at the foot of MacDougal Street. Gradually these folk artists were invited into the cafes to play their music in between the poetry. The Gaslight, which would still spotlight the poets, was now also showcasing the words and music of Bob Dylan, Tom Paxtion, Maria Muldaur and others. As the sixties progressed, the Beats and the folk singers began to overlap and create even stronger reverberations in the national counter-culture. The music that came out of here helped change the consciousness of a nation
And it’s still reverberating today, as this documentary demonstrates. More than just a rich history, Renegade Dreamers blends with the present as well. Kramer realized that so many young people who are in their twenties and thirties have been influenced by Ginsberg and Dylan and others of that era and who are using their art for social change. She has spent years following young hip poets and songwriters around New York City as they perform their work on subway platforms and galleries, political rallies, cafes, basements. She interweaves these current artists with those of the past.
The independent documentary has taken 7 years to make and is now in its final stages. It’s all shot and edited and Kramer is still trying to raise the last round of funds to pay for the archival material. If those donations come through, the film will be released in 2018. For anyone who wants to help or is interested in the film, Kramer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org