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James Franco stars as counter-culture revolutionary Allen Ginsberg, who recounts the road trips, love affairs and search for personal liberation that led to the most electrifying work of his career: the poem Howl. Meanwhile, in a San Francisco courtroom, Howl is on trial as prosecutor Ralph McIntosh (David Strathairn), defense attorney Jake Ehrlich (Jon Hamm), and a host of witnesses (Jeff Daniels, Mary-Louise Parker) debate the artistic merits of Ginsberg’s controversial work, and whether or not it should be banned from publication.
"James Franco’s performance should redefine his career.” -- Betsy Sharkey, LA Times
"Outstanding!" -- Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter
"Rhapsodically beautiful...Franco is the movie’s perfect center." -- David Edelstein, New York Magazine
"What Ginsberg’s poem might have sounded and felt like at the moment of its creation...It takes a familiar, celebrated piece of writing and makes it come alive." -- A.O. Scott, The New York Times
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Ginsberg's poem, portraying very personal events and largely inspired in its naked, crystalline candour by his love and admiration for Jack Kerouac, frankly, even joyously relays Ginsberg's experiences with gay sex, marijuana, booze, pills, bohemian roadtrips and a radical questioning of America and the established social order. It was Kerouac's influence, we see, that led the younger and smitten Ginsberg to take on his mentor's advice and create a poetry that was WHO he was and not something separate from himself and his life events. And it was that honesty that so shocked many and endeared countless more that influenced an entire generation. But that kind of portrayal of the disenfranchised, order-questioning, sexually exploratory world view of an emerging generation, bent on busting through countless personal and social barriers, was a threat to the old school.Read more ›
This "hybrid" documentary, cutting back and forth between biographical sketches of Ginsberg, a restaged public reading of the poem (Franco really shines here), an interview with the poet, the stylishly mounted courtroom drama, and the animated illumination of the poem itself, works beautifully. The aura of authenticity is such that the actual footage and photos from the time fall into place quite seamlessly. Yet it's not the historical interest (which is considerable) but the timeless quality, which Ginsberg himself was striving for, that comes through in this film.
Recommended for anybody who cares about the fruitful tension between the artist and the society that sometimes reviles and sometimes revives him or her. As for extras, there's a fairly straightforward making-of, and that's about it. But the film itself is rich enough that i expect to see it a few more times before it's done with me and my friends.