Sunday, June 19, 2011


After going to see the opera Hydrogen Jukebox the other day (my review here), I saw the DVD Howl at the library and decided to expose myself to a little more Ginsberg.  Howl features James Franco, who recently starred in 127 Hours (which I have watched but haven't reviewed here yet) as Allen Ginsberg.  The movie focuses on Ginsberg's poem Howl and the obscenity trial regarding the poem.

The most interesting thing about the movie is that there is no original dialogue.  The entire script comes from trial transcripts, interviews with Ginsberg, letters, the poem itself, and other sources.  As we are told at the start of the film, every word in the movie was actually said by the person who is portrayed as speaking them in the movie.  Cool.  But it's more than a documentary or a sterile dramatization.  It's pretty remarkable how well the strategy of using only actual documents works.
The "artist" at work.
Beyond that impressive technique, though, I found little to like about the film.  It's amazing that there was a trial in the first place.  The prosecution is made to look ridiculous as they attempt to prove that Ginsberg's poem has no intrinsic artistic value as literature.  Maybe I think it's a crummy poem, not worth my time, but that doesn't mean it has no merit.  And Ginsberg's life--well, if I thought his poetry was worth a dime, I might be more interested in his biography, but I'm not.  I don't get very excited about the heroes of the 1960s.  Some of Howl was the poem itself, accompanied by psychedelic animated interpretations of the content.  No thanks.

So for this movie glutton who can do without the cultural contributions of the beat poets, this wasn't a movie for me.

Bottom line, 1 1/2 stars.

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