Published Dec 08, 2011Although largely forgotten today, outside of subsets of radical left revivalists, poet, psychologist, polymath and public intellectual Paul Goodman made an indelible mark on the academic realm of post-war America. An enormously talented and prolific writer, and unabashedly radical thinker (although a rationalist at heart), Goodman is profiled in Paul Goodman Changed My Life, a new biographical documentary that focuses largely on his life among the NYC intellectual elite in the 1950s and '60s.
Best known for his radical theories on juvenile delinquency, published in the book Growing Up Absurd in 1960, Goodman became intertwined with the youth movement of the era and was one of its greatest supporters and benefactors until his disillusionment in the late '60s began to take its toll.
Goodman was the rare kind of academic extrovert, acting as a buffer between the real world and the ivory tower, and his radical beliefs and classically academic appearance, replete with horn-rimmed glasses, rumpled sweater and bad teeth, belied a bisexual thrill-seeker who split his time evenly in lecture halls and barrooms. Both the film and Goodman's life reach a turning point when he becomes a figurehead (one of many) for '60s radicalism and as things change rapidly and begin to conflict with his utopian ideals, he becomes cynical and loses touch.
Paul Goodman Changed My Life's chief aim is to rehabilitate the work of a man who passed away almost 40 years ago. Director Jonathan Lee deftly combines talking head interviews with Goodman's family members and acolytes, as well as archival footage and snippets of Goodman's writing. Cinematically, as in life, Goodman is a charmer, with his impassioned intellectual persona sure to warm the hearts of anyone who's ever used the word "pedagogy" in everyday conversation.
A polarising presence, Goodman inspired impassioned discussion everywhere he went, and while the film doesn't interview any of his "enemies," it's clear that some of his uninhibited behaviour hurt certain people closest to him, so the film isn't pure hagiography.
Paul Goodman Changed My Life won't claim any awards for originality of form, but as an honest and concise sketch of a person's life, it indubitably succeeds. (Films We Like)