Howl

First Hit: Excellent way to present one of the most powerful modern day poems.

I tried reading Howl some 30 years ago and just couldn’t get into it. Outside of an e.e. cummings poem called “somewhere I have never traveled”; there are few poems I related to.

Walking into the theater I was hoping to gain a better understanding of a landmark poem, known for its obscenities, the ensuing obscenity trial, and as a marker for “the beat generation.”

This film is shot in a wide variety of ways with it moving from one style to another. There are the interview sections whereas James Franco plays Allen Ginsberg being interviewed. The interview feels intimate because it takes place in Ginsberg’s apartment and he play Ginsberg as relaxed and at home.

Then there are the intermittent sections where Ginsberg is premiering his poem at Six Gallery a small nightclub where the audience seems to hang on every word.

Another way the director expresses the poem’s meaning is through animation which at times is interesting and other times distracting. Then there are the court scenes. Here Lawrence Ferlinghetti (played by Andrew Rogers), is on trial for publishing obscene material (Howl).

Through these different types of scenes and venues, the director is piecing together the social significance of Howl as setting a landmark of the Beat Generation. However, the club scenes, although try to look like the 50’s, don’t really feel like them. The court scenes were adequately performed but felt constrained.

The animation was both helpful but created wide stylistic mood swings in the film. The interview was the most effective at learning who Ginsberg was and how he came to write Howl.

However, the overall feeling walking out of the theater and the next day was that I did see the power and intellectual beauty in the writing of this poem.

Franco was totally believable as Ginsberg. There was nothing false about his performance, whether it was the reading of Howl at its premier or during the interview as he uncovered his life and how he came to write Howl. Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman co-wrote and co-directed this film and it did feel like there was not a singular focus.

Overall: I was happy to learn to more about Howl and Ginsberg and in this realm the film did its job.