HOWL Written and Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman Starring James Franco, Jon Hamm and David Strathairn
Mark Schorer: Sir, you cannot translate poetry to prose. That is why it’s poetry.
I seriously doubt this could happen today, that a poem could spark such outcry as to demand it be banned in the courts as obscene. Fifty years ago though, that is exactly what happened to American poet, Allen Geinsberg, with his poem, “Howl”. The poem depicted the darker underbelly of America, a side of the country that the majority didn’t want to acknowledge. It spoke of the impoverished, the bohemians, the homosexuals and anyone else that really that didn’t fit into the status quo because of who they were or what they did with their days and nights. And so the debate is on – does different mean obscene simply because you cannot understand it?
The trial, the poet and the poem itself are portrayed separately and cut together to form what is the first narrative film by the Academy Award winning documentary filmmaking team of Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (THE CELLULOID CLOSET, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF HARVEY MILK). Named after the poem, HOWL can only loosely be described as a narrative though. Albeit a somewhat safe choice for their first fiction foray, the filmmakers based their screenplay on court transcripts, archival footage and interviews, giving HOWL a very documentary feel. Ginsberg himself, played calmly and coolly by James Franco, is only ever shown in interview or in flashback, never driving any plot forward. The lack of formal focus makes for a free flowing experience but also never allows the film to truly find a firm foundation.
Like the point being proved in court by the “Howl” defense attorney (Jon Hamm) though, form needn’t be formal for the themes to be meaningful or have literary merit. Each component of the film, including a dark and rich animated interpretation of “Howl” from Monk Studios, functions fine individually and creates a whole unique unto itself. In that sense, HOWL honours its inspiration as best it can and proves the timelessness of the poem by allowing its relevance resonate even still today.
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*** out of **** James Franco can gleefully inhabit just about every character he portrays. I enjoyed watching him as his pot-head persona in "Pineapple Express", and his performance in 2010's "127 Hours" is earning Franco all kinds of praise. I know he is a talented actor; but I never knew he would act in a movie such as "Howl". Now, "Howl" is a film which not everyone has heard of, and if you've heard of it, then it's probably because you either like the poem of the same … more
I really wasn't at all sure what I was going to be seeing when I sat down to watch Howl. I came into the film with really no expectations and by the time the credits were rolling I was somewhat mesmerized. The film takes place in both 1955 and 1957 as we see Allen Ginsberg (portrayed brilliantly by James Franco) in his various relationships with both homosexual and heterosexual friends and lovers, as we see him writing and performing his infamous poem widely considered the cornerstone of the … more
Hello Lunchers. I am a thirty-something guy making his way in Toronto. I am a banker by day and a film critic the rest of the time. Sensitive, sharp and sarcastic are just a few words that start with … more
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Howl is a 2010 genre-bending biopic of famed beat poet Allen Ginsberg, portrayed by James Franco. The film, written and directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, is structured around the 1957 obscenity trial, launched after the publication of Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems, which became a landmark case establishing a key legal precedent guaranteeing First Amendment rights for other controversial literary works. The film was scheduled to compete for the Golden Bear at the 60th Berlin International Film Festivaland to be the Closing Night film at the Frameline Film Festival on June 27, 2010.