When the opportunity arose to attend a premiere of the new movie “Howl”, I jumped at the chance. Not only was the opportunity to see a movie for FREE.99 a great deal, but after doing a little research on the film, my curiosity was piqued. I had a basic knowledge of Allen Ginsberg and the whole Beat Generation/San Francisco scene from reading several interviews with him (including one in Rolling Stone circa 1995 or 1996 that was really good), and I was curious to see how James Franco (of all people) would fare as the famed poet and author.
I was quite pleasantly surprised. “Howl” isn’t a biopic, per se. The film focuses specifically on the period from 1955-1957-a period when the poem “Howl” was written and performed for the first time and during which Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the person who first published Ginsberg’s “Howl & Other Poems” (and amazingly, still runs City Lights bookstore in San Francisco today) wound up on trial for obscenity in a landmark 1st Amendment case. You can basically split the film up into three discrete but interwoven vignettes-the first focusing on Ginsberg talking to an unseen interviewer, the second being an animated piece in which “Howl” is beautifully illustrated, and the third piece focusing on the trial itself. Even though you know how the trial ends (and I don’t think I’m sharing a spoiler by saying that the judge ruled in favor of “Howl”‘s publisher), the courtroom scenes are riveting. Much props to Jon Hamm and David Straithairn for their strong portrayals of the case’s attorneys.
I must admit-I was not ridiculously familiar with James Franco as an actor, having only seen him in “Spider-Man”. My only knowledge of him beyond that was as a tabloid semi-regular and as a fan of “Scrubs” (on which his brother Dave portrayed the supremely unlikeable Cole). Not only does James have to carry the overwhelming majority of the movie on his shoulders, he does it quite well. I’ll admit that I’d never heard or seen Ginsberg speak, so I’m not quite sure how well their mannerisms match (and there are a couple of times when Franco’s real voice sneaks out), but by the time the movie was over, James Franco WAS Allen Ginsberg, and that’s the mark of a great actor.
Because it probably bears mentioning to a certain segment of the viewing audience, this movie is at least partially based on an obscenity trial, so there’s a good deal of salty language included here. This film is not for the kiddies.
“Howl” is only being released in select markets and theaters (starting next Friday). However, if the film is getting played in your neck of the woods, I strongly recommend seeing it. This one gets a solid B+ from me.
Check out the movie’s website and trailer here.