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Its San Francisco in 1957, and an American masterpiece is put on trial. Howl, the film, recounts this dark moment using three interwoven threads the tumultuous life events that led a young Allen Ginsberg to find his true voice as an artist, societys reaction (the obscenity trial), and mind-expanding animation that echoes the startling originality of the poem itself. All three coalesce in a genre-bending hybrid that brilliantly captures a pivotal moment-the birth of a counterculture.
This review is from: Howl (DVD) DVD skips toward the end of feature. I wish I knew how to return it and get a good one..
This review is from: Howl (DVD) First off, I just want to say that if you are not familiar with avant garde poetry, the beatnik generation, or the works of Allen Ginsberg, or know a little about his story, then you're going to be lost while watching this film.I learned about Ginsberg some time ago, but he was never a poet that I had more than a cursory knowledge about. He did lead a very interesting life though,and yes, I would call his work revolutionary. This film takes place during his indecency trial (Yes, they actually took him to court over it!), regarding the controversy around his career-defining 4-part poem..."HOWL", which shook up the establishment of 1950's America pretty good! (-: (I just love people who upset the established order of things!) During the course of this trial, James Franco, musing as Ginsberg, recants the story of his life up until that point. Franco really INHABITS young Allen Ginsberg in this!It's very impressive and completely haunting to see.The film maker uses multiple mediums; color, black and white, animation, interesting editing, etc., to co-sign along with the acting performances, and Franco's narrative,enhancing the viewing experience even further.James Franco has really established himself in modern times, as an actor of amazing range, depth, and versatility....and, may I also add, fearlessness to that equasion as well. There is nothing that this guy can't do, and do well, it seems!I have a lot of his more popular works, as well as many of his indie performances. Not counting that dismal 2011 Oscars fiasco, which I think was more a faux pas of the writers and producers of that show than anything! (-: I must also add that Jon Hamm and David Strathairn were great in their supporting roles.Gus Van Sant served as one of the executive producers of this noteworthy indie film.Again, it's not for the masses, but for a smaller, more informed, esoteric audience.I liked it very much. **4 Stars**
Howl is a great poem; Howl is a weak movie. If you want to be talked atfor 90 minutes, then maybe you'll find it edifying, but to be honest, Ifound that this film took some really interesting people, a reallyinteresting moment and a really important poem and turned them intowords, words, words. I would have liked the portions in which Ginsbergreads the poem at the Six Gallery because I think James Franco does apretty good job of getting Ginsberg's voice and cadences down as wellas his gestures and body language. Never been much of a fan of Franco,but he does a good job here of paying homage to Ginsberg. Still, Ican't get past his pretty boy looks which don't work even for the youngGinsberg. Similarly, the crowd of beats at the poetry reading look likethey just popped out of a frat party. They don't look "beat." Thecourtroom scenes were poor; I am a great admirer of David Strathairn,but he has very little to work with here while Jon Hamm does a fineimitation of a block of wood. Jeff Daniels is laughable as a caricatureof academia. The interview sequences include a lot of good material,but there's too much of it to be absorbed and the whole thing comesacross as very static. The animations provided a creative way toincorporate the poem, but they didn't really dazzle. Ginsberg was avery interesting man who deserves much better.
I loved this movie. I thought Franco was brilliant, I know the movie's been criticized by some as being boring during these bits but I was fascinated by not only Franco but by the subject matter. Anyone interested in anything about creativity or the artistic process or art in general will love this movie. The animation was really cool I thought, rather than over the top. I thought it was a greatw way of visualizing the poem, because really anything less than the very abstract quality it had would have seemed weird. It needs that and actually being able to think through the poem with the help of the visuals is great.
This review is from: Howl (DVD) Ginsberg's 'Howl' is here to stay as part of the canon of great poetry, even if it becomes the only one the poet will be remembered by in the future, & the film Howl does an excellent job of showing why. A retelling of the history of a counter-cultural poem's dramatic effect on censorship over 50 years ago, the film keeps that drama in check, appropriately refining it to give us insight into an event that resonated loudly with those who recognised that it mattered in the context of freedom of expression & literary aesthetics, while meaning little or nothing to those who weren't interested. In the main, the same goes for the film. Admirers of Ginsberg's poem & historical achievement will probably get the most immediate pleasure from it.However, this doesn't limit its appeal. This film also deserves to attract anyone who is aware of James Franco's trajectory as one of the most interesting & watchable actors around. Most roles he chooses have depth, often because only he can bring that depth to them, & he refuses to allow himself to become typecast. What type would that be, anyway? Like the real-life characters he's played - Ginsberg, Hart Crane, Aron Ralston & James Dean among others - he's a charismatic original. Even Harry Olston in the Spiderman films transcends the stereotypical 'is he a goodie or baddie?' comic figure, in Franco's portrayal becoming someone whose motives we care about & a recipient of our compassion.The aspect of the film Howl that lifts it out of the celluloid biography genre altogether is the fabulous visual interpretation of the poem itself. Anyone who appreciates fine animation will find it unforgettable. Though I knew of the historical significance of Ginsberg's poem before seeing the film, I didn't know the poem itself. The film Howl has been a marvelous introduction to it, fulfilling my hopes that it would be & being a fine entertainment into the bargain. Very highly recommended.
This movie was really well-executed. Some movies don't know when to stop and add loads of meaningless fluff, but at only 90 minutes, this movie makes every moment count. (Although I wouldn't have minded if it was longer)It was so entertaining and Franco once again proves he's not just a pretty face. He's a talented actor. The film combines fascinating material with visual creativity. It was a good tribute to Ginsberg.
Poetry can seriously damage your health. That's the main thing I'velearned from recent biopics in which Johnny Depp's pox-ridden JohnWilmot (The Libertine), Ben Whishaw's consumptive Keats (Bright Star)and Gwyneth Paltrow's depressive Sylvia Plath (Sylvia) have corneredthe market in self-destructive behaviour.I approached Howl, a movie about Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg,with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. On the one hand, it starsJames Franco as Ginsberg and Mad Men's Jon Hamm as his lawyer, JakeEhrlich. I'd watch these two ridiculously handsome actors in just aboutanything, but I really didn't want to sit through another Ode to Angst.Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman -- The Times of Harvey Milk,The Celluloid Closet Â are renowned for their documentary work and thisfilm was originally conceived along those lines. Ginsberg's epic poem"Howl" was first published in 1955, but its explicit references todrugs and homosexuality (amongst other things) led to the prosecutionof his publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1957. The intention was tocommemorate the 50th anniversary of those events.But instead of a straight documentary, the film-makers have opted toshow us three sides of "Howl". There's the poem itself, with Francotrying to channel the spirit of Ginsberg as he addresses a raptaudience, in the b/w sequences from 1955. By contrast, the trial scenesare shot in colour and feature many voices with differing opinionsabout the merit of Ginsberg's work. Finally, the poet's own thoughtsare recorded by an unseen interviewer. At the centre of all this,"Howl" is also given visual form, with a series of animations createdby artist Eric Drooker.For me, the courtroom scenes are the most enjoyable andthought-provoking element of the film. A succession of expert witnessesÂ some pompous, some just prejudiced Â try to get to grips with issuesof literary merit and the nature of obscenity. David Strathairn isadmirably straight-faced in the role of prosecuting attorney RalphMcIntosh, as he tiptoes through a minefield of sexual imagery andbaffling phrases like "angel-headed hipsters". Hamm's tight-lippeddefence lawyer brings a sense of intellectual superiority to theproceedings Â he's a crusading Don Draper with the added bonus of amoral compass.Ginsberg himself wasn't on trial here and wasn't present at theproceedings, but the debate about whether the law is an effective toolfor censoring and constraining artists remains highly topical. As oneof the more thoughtful witnesses (played by Treat Williams) explains,"You can't translate poetry into prose. That's why it is poetry." Thepoet's own perspective on his life and work is captured in conversationwith an off-camera reporter. A bearded, chain-smoking Ginsberg talksopenly about his homosexuality, his mother's psychiatric problems, andfellow writer Carl Solomon, to whom "Howl" was dedicated. This strandof the film was inspired by a never-published interview that Ginsberggave to Time magazine, but the film's dialogue is culled from a varietyof sources.Trying to explain the process of translating feelings into verse is ahard thing to pull off on film. Perhaps that's why most film-makersprefer to concentrate on the broken marriages and substance abuse thatgo hand in hand with tortured literary geniuses. Epstein and Friedman,who also wrote the screenplay, have done a good job trying to condensebiographical detail and literary theory into what is basically amonologue Â without being pretentious or boring. Brief flashbacks ofGinsberg pounding away at his typewriter, with his friend Neal Cassady,and in bed with long-term partner Peter Orlovsky, help to round out aportrait of the artist.The final piece in the jigsaw Â the poem Â is the most problematicaspect of the film. How much of the work does the audience need tohear, and how do you hold their attention through some long anddifficult passages? I quickly became bored of Franco's declamatorystyle, as he reads to a gathering of smug-looking hipsters at the SixGallery in San Francisco.When the recitation continues over Eric Drooker's animation, the effectis even worse. It's a matter of taste whether you thrill to therepeated imagery of fire, the minotaur-like Moloch and weirdlyelongated bodies flying across the night sky. I prefer not to havesomeone else's interpretation of the verse foisted on me. Archivefootage from the period would have been another option to fill the gap,but overall I think the poetry should have been used more sparingly.Howl is bold, stylish attempt to capture a period in the mid-20thcentury when writing poetry could be an act of political rebellion Â ashot across the bows of dull, conformist, heterosexual America. Bycasting the handsome and charismatic James Franco as Ginsberg, thedirectors could have turned this into yet another movie about the cultof personality. Instead they've largely succeeded in keeping the focuson the verse and on the act of writing. As the man said, "There's noBeat Generation. Just a bunch of guys trying to get published."
Probably nothing symbolizes the beatnik era more than Allen Ginsberg'spoem "Howl", not just because of its subject matter but also because ofthe obscenity trial that it sparked. Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman'smovie "Howl" tells the story of this. The film consists of threeinterspersed sequences: Ginsberg (James Franco) discusses his worldviews, the poem gets depicted in animation, and the trial. Franco isgreat as the anti-conformist poet, talking about his experiences withJack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, and speaking frankly about hishomosexuality. The part about the trial of course confirms that freespeech is useless if everyone is forced to employ "agreeable" language,especially when addressing society's problems.So, "Howl" is truly one that I recommend. Some people might stillargue, as Ralph McIntosh (David Strathairn) does, that certain speechis inappropriate in certain conditions, but the purpose of the FirstAmendment is that people are supposed to be allowed to say whateverthey want, even if it's not the most popular thing to say.Also starring Jon Hamm, Alessandro Nivola, Jeff Daniels, Mary-LouiseParker, Bob Balaban, Treat Williams, Aaron Tveit and Jon Prescott.
As a young teenager, I watched Allen Ginsberg read his poetry to small crowds in Washington Square. I saw him run about the neighborhood when I lived in New York City's East Village. He was friendly and generous and loveable. During those years, we'd see the elderly William Burroughs lounge around the Mudd Club. I stayed at Hartley Hall at Columbia University, so I have a personal affection for the Beats. Among my prized possessions are letters of rejection from Sterling Lord, Jack Kerouac's literary agent, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I've read all of Bill Morgan's books and especially love I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg. Not only is that an exceptional bio, it's hilarious, gigantic, and entertaining throughout. (Why does a great book like this only garner nine customer reviews?)This is a film for Ginsberg devotees, for people who love the Beats. I'm not sure I cared for the animation, but I liked the attempt at explaining the poetry. There are many documentaries featuring Ginsberg, so maybe the casual viewer should watch one of those as an introduction before seeing this flick.My favorite line in Howl is when Ginsberg is asked about the Beats, and he replies we're just a bunch of guys trying to get published. Yes, he speaks the truth.The influence of Allen Ginsberg led this reader to William Carlos Williams and William Blake and Walt Whitman. I admire Ginsberg's authenticity and courage, especially regarding his mother's plight, and I love his love of his father and his friends and his fans. I'm not sure that I loved this movie, but I'm willing to see it again. I wonder how Allen would like it?In case you've missed it, one of the funniest television moments of all time must be the encounter between Allen and William F. Buckley. Ginsberg was as much an amusing personality as poet.If you have an interest in any of the above, you might want to check out a new book CBGB Was My High School, as it contains many references to the Beats and might encourage young readers to explore them.
This review is from: Howl (DVD) this movie is a poem in frames. shows all the passion and all language inovation from beat generation. ginsberg broke the rules, he is a liric rebel, someone who never accepted any moral code. the animation in the movie is quite amazing, you feels the words with that images. james franco's performance is wonderful, dazzling!
Impressionistic and episodic in structure, this film and James Franco's excellent acting are very effective in bringing to life Allen Ginsberg and the times in which he lived. Not a complete biography, it gives you a very clear taste of his anarchic, loving and very sexy spirit and to want to know more. I saw him in real life only once, at the very first National Gay Rights March on Washington DC in 1978. Remarkably, a million people attended, and Allen was up there, on stage, reciting a poem in celebration of the event and feeling so jubilant that at times he had to jump up and down with joy! A lovely and loving man, he is truly a son of Walt Whitman in his celebration of life and love regardless of the boundaries set by others.
I first read On The Road about four years ago and have since been apassionate devourer of anything to do with the Beat generation. I wasgenuinely excited by the prospect of a film telling the story of Howl'strial, but ended up being thoroughly disappointed.Franco's vocal performance was the first thing to frustrate me; itseems that he has concentrated so hard on imitating Ginsberg's way ofspeaking that he's forgotten about the passion and conviction necessaryto make a poetry reading compelling. More upsetting however was theanimation. An extremely modern digital animation, clean and quitesimplistic in style, being used to portray a complex, emotional,explicit fifties poem about life as a down and out poet? No. Not okay.The animation was too safe, there was no daring or shock or edge to it- certainly none of the strange figures were to be seen waving genitalsand manuscripts. Rather than enhance the meaning of the poem theanimated sequences detracted from Ginsberg's beautiful words andimagery. The whole thing just felt very "Hollywood". The entire set-upof the movie was too clean and perfect looking, not at all in keepingwith the tone and atmosphere of the poem. The only parts that I didn'tfind myself skipping through were the scenes of the trial, perhapsbecause I didn't know a lot about the people portrayed in these scenesand therefore didn't make comparisons between the actors and thereality. These were genuinely interesting to watch, they are well acted(though unlike the rest of the people portrayed in the movie I had noprior impression of the people within the trial scenes to compare with)and provided an interesting insight into the reception of Howl in theliterary world.Overall, I would not recommend this film to anybody who has a priorinterest, admiration, or passion for the Beat generation. And if youare coming to the film without any knowledge of Ginsberg and Howl, thenI would advise you to go on youtube and find Ginsberg's reading of thepoem before watching the film so that you can make up your own mindabout it before the dire animation ruins it for you.
Combines "Ginsberg" reading Howl with animation of the poem and excerpts from the obscenity trial, and James Franco as Ginsberg talking about his life. Really great. Captures the Beat feeling. Who would have thought little James Franco could deliver like this!
Few poems have an impact on society, even fewer change society the way Howl did. The movie uses an interview with Allen Ginsberg and the transcipts from the trial to tell the story of Howl the poem. What the beats did was to carve the way for the 60's Woodstock generation. Howl and William Burroughs' "Naked Lunch" both went on obscenity trials. Both trials did more for the works than the author's own words. The film uses real words and juts back and forth between the poem, the trial and the interview to tell the story of Howl's creation and legal battles. Ginsberg's biography is told in the story and via poem. James Franco is not my first choice to play Allen Ginsberg, but he does a decent job. The directors do a fantastic job in conveying the story through several different means, including animation while the poem is being read. Great work for any Beat fan.
I'm surprised that this film worked as well as it did, and that it hasbeen received as well as it has here. I read Howl about 5 years afterGinsberg wrote it, when I was in high school, and, like it or not, itbecame part of my thinking in the fifty years since then. Still in highschool, I could quote passages from the poem at my friends, who wouldfollow up with the next passage, etc. Boooring. But if you had told methat a film would be made about it, with a script constructed of trialtranscripts and interviews in the public record, alternating with arecreation of Ginsberg's first public (paying-public; there was ONEprevious reading of the full poem) reading of the poem, I wouldn't haveexpected much. And I would have been wrong. It's well-done andwell-acted, and no excuses are made for anything about Ginsberg or hiswork. I was dismayed at first to see the poem interpreted intoanimation, but the filmmakers were savvy enough to produce theanimation in the style of the times, i.e., 1955, when Disney's Fantasiawas still the state of the art, and the animation in Howl could havecome out of the Night on Bald Mountain section. In the end, it worked,I think, by keeping the viewer visually in the world of the poemitself, rather than in the biographical material about Ginsberg or thetrial and the litigants. So if you want to watch a movie about a poem,and the poet and his friends, but mainly about the poem, this one doesa pretty good job.
In admiration of James Franco and his portraying a literary person iswhy I wanted to see this film. Since I'd never read the poem "Howl" byAllen Ginsberg (& I knew of Ginsberg in his later years as he wasfairly renown as almost an elder poet statesman), I actually dug up acopy of "Howl" and read it before I viewed the movie. It turns out thatit wasn't necessary to have read "Howl" -- the film sufficientlypresents the poem and its complete text so that the viewer gets a goodunderstanding just from the movie itself (at least I thought so...).This occurs in not only Franco's public reading of "Howl," it isbrought out in the animation aspect of the film -- for me the animationwas unexpected yet not intrusive. What is the film's major strength isJames Franco's portrayal of Ginsberg. Franco's actual physicalresemblance to the younger Ginsberg adds to his portrayal and hispublic reading of "Howl" is also quite good. What is additionally satisfying in my mind is the evoking of a time andplace (mid 1950s America) when a group of writers and quasi-vagabondslived their lives on their own terms (& not in accordance to what wasthen considered the status quo) and wrote about it. This is brought outin depictions of Ginsberg's relationships and also in the court roomobscenity battle about "Howl."
Howl was an interesting look into the life of Allen Ginsberg. The moviewas mainly about the trial that questioned whether or not Ginsberg'spoem, "Howl" was too obscene. However, there were brief bits whereJames Franco as Ginsberg was being interviewed about his personal life. I felt that the animations that were displayed during the reading ofthe poem made the poem more powerful and clear. The contrasts betweenthe beautiful imagery of the poem and the scenes of the tense trialwere great. The trial scenes were very powerful, and the actors thatplayed the witnesses (namely Mary Louise-Parker and Jeff Daniels), dida really great job creating believable characters. I loved the film and Franco did a great job portraying Allen Ginsberg.
There is so much unnecessary obscenity in this movie... and it's also impossible to find in theaters, are they TRYING to get nobody to watch their movies?
As Allen Ginsberg (James Franco) talks about his life and art, his mostfamous poem is illustrated in animation while the obscenity trial ofthe work is dramatized.I do not know what Ginsberg's voice really sounded like, but I have toassume that Franco nailed it, because Franco is not known for hissuperior acting and he really goes out of his way to sound different onthis one. Sadly, the beard looks painted on, and I never fully feellike the style of his hair and clothes is appropriate for the timeperiod. Maybe it is, maybe not.Franco also deserves credit for portraying a homosexual. While it isnot maybe as bold as "Brokeback Mountain", it still takes some courage.(One could also -- and probably should -- give credit to all thehomosexual actors who have played straight all their lives. Think ofall the women Neil Patrick Harris has had to kiss. Awkward?)
James Franco has established himself as quite a character actor. Therewas his lauded (not by me) portrayal of intrepid mountaineer AronRalston. He played James Dean in a T.V. film, which again widelyimpressed. And now, as the adverts proudly proclaim, 'he is AllenGinsberg', a leading figure of the 'Beat' generation and one of the20th Century's most celebrated poets. Franco is by no means a great actor, but his absence of real-lifepersonality (as with many other actors of worth) puts him at anadvantage. (Notice how the more cabbage-like the personality, the moresublime the actor within.) 'Howl' could have worked as any of its sole components, but it's anexercise in Â and triumph of Â style. It's told in an expressive, funway, using a quartet of interwoven stylistic modes. There's the centralstory of the 1957 obscenity trial Â to ascertain whether Ginsberg'smost famous poem, 'Howl' had any literary value. We have Ginsberg'sback story in sleek monochrome. There's a reenactment of an interviewhe had (with a faceless interviewer). And then there's the splendid,psychedelic animation, needed to elucidate 'Howl's' arcana.It's an art film, to be sure, but it has enough appeal forintellectuals and non-intellectuals alike. The courtroom scenes are ajoy. Jeff Daniels made me laugh as a disapproving professor debatingthe intricacies of what can be called literature. David Strathairn andJon Hamm as the prosecuting and defending lawyers give superb lifelikeperformances, which is a necessary contradiction of the otherfantastical aspects. Franco has done a marvelous job of mimicking Ginsberg's elocution. Thefillers, the long pauses before snapping at the right word, theoccasional maundering. A quick look on Youtube confirms that Franco haseven mastered the mannerisms and the way Ginsberg declaimed his poetry.I was glad that 'Howl' was read in (I think) its entirety throughoutthe film; I found it a pleasure to listen to. I resiled from poetry at school. It didn't turn me on. This film,especially Franco's enthusiasm, has done something to stimulate aninterest. www.scottishreview.net