Even though I grew up in San Francisco and go to City Lights Bookstore whenever I’m in North Beach, my knowledge of the Beat Poets/Writers is basically, Jack Kerourac. Admittedly, I never read On the Road (I have it though) and I’ve never heard of the poem Howl, by Allan Ginsberg, which this film is based on. I tell you this because it did not stop me from thoroughly enjoying this film.
I must warn you from the start that I don’t believe this film is for everyone. It’s very arty; with cartoons, jazz, and basically someone reading a very long poem throughout the course of the film. At first I was hesitant, but it’s only an hour and 24 minutes so I decided to stick it out. I was glad I did.
In 1957 a poem was published by City Lights Press. After its publication, the publishers were sued on obscenity charges. This film not only shows the poem being read by Ginsberg (played by James Franco), the filmmakers actually take the real court transcripts as the script for most of the film. This is spliced in with a lengthy interview that Ginsberg gave in 1957.
Whatever personality Franco lacked in his Oscar hosting gig, he completely takes on this role with gusto. I get the feeling he loved getting into this character. He’s vibrant and alive and I love the passion and youthfulness he brought to this role.
What I enjoyed the most was hearing the interview. We tend to think certain artist didn’t really have intent when they wrote certain words or painted certain images, but in his interview, Ginsberg makes it quite clear that he knew what he was doing.
I plan to be in the North Beach area next month. I promise you I will be picking up my long overdue copy of Howl and Other Poems. If you’re feeling particularly creative, give this movie a try. I think you’ll be ready to do some serious creation work afterwards.