Friday, January 11, 2013
I don't care much for Allen Ginsberg's contentious poem Howl, but it makes for great history, and in this case, a great film. There's no easy way going about making a movie about Ginsberg or his work, but writer-director duo Rob Epstein and Jeffery Friedman (who won an oscar for their doc Common Treads: Stories From the Quilt) are more than up to the challenge. This is an incredibly tight and compact picture, telling so much and using only a swift 84 minutes to do so. The filmmakers' agenda is four-sided: to capture Ginsberg's direct early influence on 1950s youths, to study his own personal views on various subjects, to take the viewer on a journey of what kind of beast the poem Howl really is, and to present an historically precise public response to the poem. This is achieved through four very distinct, intertwining segments: the first is Ginsberg (played by a convincing James Franco) reading his poem to a reverential crowd in a bar, the second is a documentary-style interview with Ginsberg, the third is an animated sequence that visually interprets the words of the poem, and the fourth is a courtroom scene (great acting here from David Strathairn, John Hamm, Mary Louise-Parker, and Jeff Daniels), the obscenity trial contesting Howl's literary significance. The movie is instantly watchable, providing a look at the beat generation, as well as its roots, when the hipsters weren't hipsters and still wearing vests and plaid shirts.