– . – Howl: In Conversation
Directors & Screenplay Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman
Stars James Franco, John Hamm, Jeff Daniels, David Strathairn, Bob Balaban DoP Edward Lachman
Editor Jake Pushinsky
Locations New York City, USA
Opens February 25 movieScope’s editor Nikki Baughan and critic James Mottram discuss Howl, a docu-drama about the obscenity trial surrounding Allen Ginsberg’s (James Franco) seminal work.
NIKKI BAUGHAN I have to be honest and say I’ve never read Howl, but I really enjoyed the film. I didn’t think it was intended as an in-depth study of the poem, it was more about creating a feel for Howl and the furore that surrounded it and it did that really well.
JAMES MOTTRAM I’ve read [Jack Kerouac’s] On The Road but I wasn’t that familiar with the Beat Generation. I didn’t get a grasp of the poem, but you should just let it drift over you! That’s why the animation sequences work so well; they really brought the poem alive.
NIKKI Yes, I’d agree that the animated sequences were excellent, and they really brought the passion of the poem to life. I thought the film was cleverly constructed, too, with peaks and troughs of emotion as there are in Howl—Franco’s reading of the poem was powerful and passionate, whereas the interview and courtroom scenes were very staid.
JAMES They have cut it together very carefully, but I don’t think they combine to creative a working narrative. There’s not really a beginning, middle or end, apart from the courtroom scenes where you do get to hear the verdict. It is narratively difficult to get your head around. I found the court room scenes dry, as were the interviews with Ginsberg. There’s not much humour in it…
NIKKI I thought the courtroom scenes were quite amusing; the arguments over what the poem actually means and whether it could be classed as obscene underlined the fact that the Beat Generation were genuinely beginning to challenge the status quo.
JAMES It’s interesting as a counterpart to the recent controversy over A Serbian Film! And there was a great array of actors in the courtroom scene; the fact that John Hamm and James Franco are in it means the film
has got a draw for the average filmgoer. It’s not a mainstream film; in fact, it’s quite subversive in some ways but the cast certainly draws the viewer in.
NIKKI I thought it was another excellent performance from Franco; he’s obviously passionate about Ginsberg and the poem, and this really came across in his reading of Howl.
JAMES It’s not a showy role for Franco; it’s quite understated. I think he orates the poem with passion and great power. I’m sure fans of [Ginsberg’s] work would love to hear it front and centre in a film. I don’t think you’re meant to understand the poem, just let it wash over you. It’s essentially a visualised poem which is very interesting.
Nikki Baughan: 4 stars
James Mottram: 4 stars