“Howl” Movie Review

1/06/2011 Posted by Admin


Movie Review

Written and directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, 84 minutes, rated R.

By our guest blogger, Joel Crabtree

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,” and so begins “Howl,” Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s film, which is not so much a biopic of beat poet Allen Ginsberg as it is an ode to his life and work.

The movie weaves together three loosely connected segments--Ginsberg (James Franco, spoiling us yet again) openly reflecting on his early life and art; the 1957 obscenity trial that helped propel “Howl” into the media spotlight; and an animated interpretation of the famous poem.

The film’s linear storylines (Ginsberg’s past and the trial) offer a traditional look at the creation of “Howl” and the public outcry that followed the poem’s publication. It’s Ginsberg’s life that lays the groundwork for the rest of “Howl,” offering a look into the mind and creative process of one of the generation’s most prolific writers.

The obscenity trial, however procedural it may be, is enthralling for advocates of free speech. Jake Erhlich (Jon Hamm) and Ralph McIntosh (David Strathairn) play a ping-pong match to prove (or disprove) the literary merit behind “Howl.” Although, at times it seems far too one-sided for the film’s most likely partial audience, it presents a microcosm for the discord triggered by Ginsberg’s writing.

The animated spells, on the other hand, are more in the spirit of the poem. They wash over you, wrapping you up in a projection of “Howl,” but also sweep you away from the film’s real world. As a result, the movie is a poignant, and at times jarring, companion piece to Ginsberg’s poetry.

It would be a crime not to reiterate how amazing Franco is as Ginsberg. Franco always manages to challenge himself not only as an actor, but as an artist. “Howl” is no exception. Instead of portraying Ginsberg as a caricature, Franco captures the writer’s spirit. It’s no easy feat, but as always, he goes above and beyond.

Epstein and Friedman’s vision of “Howl” may not be the most coherent approach to Ginsberg’s life. That’s not the film’s intention. To present “Howl” as a standard biopic would be an insult to Ginsberg and his work. Instead, it’s the poet’s words that bind “Howl” together. And what better way could there be to honor Ginsberg than through his own words?

Grade: B+

View the trailer below.  Thoughts?

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