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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Howl - Movie About Allen Ginsberg Poem Obscenity Trial - Review

The beat generation poem "Howl" by Allen Ginsberg is a revolutionary and controversial poem not only for its time but perhaps for the ages.  

Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman directed the movie "Howl", which I had the pleasure of watching recently on NetFlix. The movie "Howl" is the story of two events happening at the same time. One story Allen Ginsberg's first 1955 reading of the epic poem, "Howl."  A full length reading of the poem in a bookstore with frequent animation injected into the film. The animation by Epstein and Friedman is intended to help the movie audience better understand the poem.

 Other story in Howl is the 1957 obscenity trial against Lawrence Ferlinghetti, owner of City Lights Bookstore in San Fransisco,  who was arrested for publishing the book.  This part of the film is staged entirely in a very small, simple courtroom setting.

The movie flashes back and forth between both stories.  It is a wonderful juxtaposition. The artsy, moody, frequently animated, poetry driven reading of Howl is  interspaced with the austere courtroom environment scenes.  This combination of the more traditional, but entertaining, courtroom scenes and the extreme creative license taken during the reading of "Howl" really makes "Howl" a fresh movie.

The film is largely dominated by James Franco, who plays Allen Ginsberg.  While Franco does not appear in the courtroom scenes, as Ginsberg did not attend the trial, he easily has the most camera time and dialog in the film.   Franco, as always, is just terrific.  He is believable as a young Allen Ginsberg wearing thick black glasses, pounding away on his typewriter, through self journey, confusion and self reflection.

The film has a lot of supporting cast with relatively small parts.  The supporting cast is made of some notable surprises.  Watch it and you'll find yourself saying, "I didn't know he was in this!"  I'll give some away. Treat Williams (who also starred with Franco in 127 Hours) and Jeff Bridges both play ascholarly, expert witnesses during the Howl obscenity trial.

The bottom line is I really enjoyed the film.  If you like modern, beat poetry you'll love the film. I have not read "Howl" but it felt as though the entire poem was read in this movie (in a good way).

If you like independent, art house films, this film is for you.  Lots  of creative license.

While the film is not overly offensive contrived, in your face kind of  way, it can be at times. There are a number of adult themes for sure that would certainly offend those looking for a more family oriented or scholarly based movie.

I say check it out.   See what you think

Rated R
84 Minutes

Please Check Out These other Great Reviews By TurtleDog

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