For Ginsberg buffs and Beatnik Era historians only, 9 April 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

HOWL, The Poem in focus, Viewed at Berlin, 2010

“Howl”, in competition at Berlin 2010, straight from Sundance where it was the festival opener, is a semi-documentary focusing on a page out of the scandal ridden life of gay Poet Laureate of the Beat Generation, Allen Ginsberg, when he was put on trial in 1957 for obscenity in connection with the publication of his magnum opus “Howl”.

(I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness …). The poet is portrayed by actor James Franco who appeared opposite Sean Penn in last year’s Oscarized gay mayor movie “Milk”, and is directed in tandem by documentarians Rob Epstein (The times of Harvey Milk, 1984 ) and Jeffrey Friedman (The Celluloid Closet, 1995). Using Gínsberg’s famous verse masterpiece as the focal point of the story, “Howl” looks at different aspects of this landmark poem of the Beat Generation era. The poem itself is depicted through animation and Ginsberg is shown reading it to an audience for the first time, then being interviewed by a faceless reporter off camera. Tailor made for Beatnik Era buffs (such as myself, for instance).


“Howl” was interesting historically, but generally rather disappointing. Maybe I was expecting too much but among other things, the main actor, James Franco, playing Ginsberg, just wasn’t Jewish enough, abrasive enough, or Gay enough!

Berlin, Feb,12, Day Number 2 February 12, 2010 — The early morning press conference for HOWL screened last night was better than the film itself. Both directors Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein were on hand to field probing questions from a sparse but more sophisticated press assemblage than usual. One German lady claimed that the animation used to illustrate the Allen Ginsberg poem was too glitzy and modern to suit the fifties time frame of the film. The general feeling, however, was that the film was worthy and stimulating, if not geared to the mass audience.


“Howl” was well received here at the festival but will probably be a hard sell at the cineplexes because of the experimental animation mixage and the intellectualized treatment of the subject matter. BOTTOM LINE: For Ginsberg buffs and Beat Generation historians only.


Alex DeLeon

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