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"Paul Goodman Changed My Life" Gives a Voice to a Largely Forgotten Social Critic

Paul Goodman (right) at an anti-war protest with author and activist Grace Paley.
Courtesy The Goodman Estate

As bluntly humanist and free-ranging as its subject, this brisk take on the life of poet, sociologist, educator, psychologist, and general pain-in-the-ass gadfly Paul Goodman is as much endangered-species doc as biography. Goodman may be the most influential 20th-century thinker you've probably never heard of — good luck tracking down a copy of his seminal 1960 time bomb, Growing Up Absurd. Goodman was an outspoken antiwar activist and radical social critic who gave voice to the counterculture long before there was one. His ethos, as expressed in a TV interview with Studs Terkel, was to "simply refuse to acknowledge that a sensible and honorable community does not exist." Filmmaker Jonathan Lee captures Goodman in the various phases of his life, and it's not always pretty: The openly bisexual Goodman was unapologetic in his pursuit of sex partners at the expense of his wife and children. Goodman's shortcomings are of a piece with his bravery and political determination. In an era when computer manufacturers with a gift for marketing become national heroes, there's more of a need for Paul Goodmans than ever.

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