The poem Howl is the seminal work of Allen Ginsberg, one of the most famous writers of the Beat Generation. Published in 1956, Howl And Other Poems chronicles, in sprawling, breath-length form, stories of America's "best minds," relating from personal experience, stories told by friends (many of whom were also influential writers of the day), and general disenfranchised youth. The poem contains graphic depictions of sexual acts, which led to the publishers of the book being arrested and tried for disseminating obscene literature.
The film Howl focuses four distinct but tightly woven aspects of Ginsberg's life: on the trial, with especially brilliant performances by Mary-Louise Parker and Jeff Daniels as two of the witnesses used for the prosecution; on Ginsberg's actual performance of the poem; on the poem itself, retold in fluid, sepia-drenched animation; and on Ginsberg recounting the events in his life leading to writing the titular poem in the style of an interview. James Franco proves himself as one of the best actors of our time with this portrayal of Allen Ginsberg, perfectly mimicking the performance style, verbal cadence, and facial expressions of this somewhat reclusive artist. While Franco performs Howl in a cramped bar at night you feel every word as it was meant to be felt. The animated segments are simple and visceral, leaving the viewers with images to haunt them for weeks. I could not look away as Franco voiced over the " eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani saxophone cry that shivered the cities," and as Ginsberg's mother was wheeled in for the shocks and other medical treatment. David Staitharn is wonderfully convicted and uncomfortable as the prosecuting attorney. Most powerful, though, are the interview segments in which Ginsberg's life story is told.
Overall, the the film "Howl" is gorgeous, thought-provoking, and well acted and directed. It flows much like Ginsberg's poetry, creating new layers of intrigue with every scene. I would recommend "Howl" to anyone interested in biopics, periods dramas, or literature. Everyone who is involved in poetry (or pretty much any art) should see this film at least once.
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