Howl

  • Year:2010
  • Rating:M
  • Director:Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
  • Cast:Jeff Daniels, James Franco, Jon Hamm, Alessandro Nivola, Mary-Louise Parker, David Strathairn
  • Release Date:March 10, 2011
  • Distributor:Madman
  • Running time:84 minutes
  • Film Worth:$17.00
  • FILMINK rates movies out of $20 - the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth

Fittingly unconventional in narrative and driven by James Franco’s inspired performance, this is a fascinating and thought-provoking tribute to an epic work.

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Allen Ginsberg's epic poem "Howl" was both the work of a major poet finding his own voice and an exclamation of generational discontent. Sparking controversy when it was first published in 1956, "Howl" revelled in the underbelly of American society, and spoke to many who felt marginalised. This fascinating tribute looks at both the genesis and the impact of this poetic masterpiece.

Fittingly, the film's narrative is somewhat unconventional, with Howl consisting of a number of sections. There's a re-enactment of the 1957 obscenity trial of the poem's publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. There are segments with James Franco being interviewed as Ginsberg some years later. Finally, there's the poem itself, with scenes of Franco reading it to a rapturous young Beat crowd, as well as animation sequences depicting various extracts. It's a fractured film, and documentarians turned feature directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (The Times Of Harvey Milk) never seem to find a way to tie it all together. This is a minor criticism though, as the individual parts remain compelling on their own terms.

Franco is an inspired choice as Ginsberg. The actor proves to be a sensitive and spirited reader of "Howl", capturing its swirling rage, beauty and black humour. He also nails Ginsberg in the interviews, revealing the poet to be a disciplined artist fully aware of his craft.

The trial scenes are just as absorbing. One of the film's most interesting moments has the chief prosecutor (David Strathairn) admitting that he doesn't really understand the meaning behind the poem. Rather than mocking Strathairn's character, Howl compels audiences to consider the purpose of poetry, how powerful it is as a medium, and the way in which people interpret it differently. What shines most brightly is the fact that "Howl" was never written to exclude people; it was made for the multitudes, and that's why it still resonates today.

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