Labor-of-love docu “The Practice of the Wild” traces the career of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder through major literary and social movements of the 20th and 21st centuries, from the Beats (he was the real-life Japhy Ryder in Kerouac’s “Dharma Bums”), through Zen and the counterculture, to his seminal role in the literature of “deep ecology.” Unfortunately, despite Snyder’s quietly commanding presence, the docu’s setup, a series of staged, would-be Socratic dialogues, feels forced and artificial — everything Snyder’s poetry is not. Bowing Nov. 12 at Gotham’s Quad Cinema, “Wild” comes off pretty tame.
Most of helmer John J. Healy’s 53-minute film consists of Snyder and producer/novelist/fellow poet Jim Harrison communing outdoors, Snyder’s bearded elegance contrasting with Harrison’s plug-ugly earthiness. Shooting the intellectual breeze with forced casualness, the nature-loving versifiers vainly attempt to make their pre-arranged Q&A sessions seem natural. Sometimes the spare beauty and authenticity of Snyder’s poems, recited by the bard himself (and illustrated with shots of mountain mists, cloud-stacked skies and Pacific flora and fauna), manage to overcome the docu’s otherwise strained attempt at spontaneity, as do talking-head interviews with Beat poet Michael McClure or publisher Jack Shoemaker.