As I feared, reviewing Howl is a task I’m not used to because it is difficult to write about things that have personal meaning. But what makes this Rob Epstein’s and Jeffrey Friedman’s movie even more complex in my eyes, is the fact that I can’t figure out how it all of a sudden became so personal in the first place. And, as my confusion continues, finding it out might never happen.
Favorite quote from the movie that might be the source of my personal admiration towards Howl: “People would never be really shocked by expression of feeling.” Allen Ginsberg.
Before I try to pin point my feelings towards Howl, a plot description should give me a great excuse to prolong the process of self-analysis of some sorts. People who know literature well are probably familiar with Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, a poem that in its obscene context was at first thought to be illegal and a court case was built against it. The movie Epstein and Friedman create follows two sets of stories, one taking place in the court room and the other is based on an interview conducted with Ginsberg. In so many ways, the movie doesn’t resemble a movie at all, but becomes a genre in itself with documentary style story telling and animated description of the poem Howl.
The former was surprising in many ways, James Franco as Ginsberg looked enough polished to look authentic and using black and white scenes as memories during his interview extinguished the confusion between the past and the present. The latter, cartoon sequences, are probably a matter of taste and although I’m a fan of animation, I wasn’t completely hooked by the visuals that were constructed to Howl’s long and unique lines. Though Franco managed to read and perform Howl in a capturing manner, I felt like the animations broke the rhythm of the movie as I preferred the interview and flashback scenes.
Since the plot’s main topic was the court case, it is only logical to mention it as well. With many familiar faces in the stands as witnesses, Jeff Daniels as a stand out, Jon Hamm took the role of defending Ginsberg’s publisher as the author himself refused to take part in the process. Since the trial was the topic of a book written by the defense attorney, it is fair to say that it all really happened and what I think got to me the most, were the final monologues from Hamm and the judge himself. And adding something special to the pile of feelings I managed to have, were the photographs taken of Ginsgerg which showed that Epstine and Friedman had taken their documentary skills and adapted them into a feature film that gives meaning to freedom of speech and staying true to life. And by that, also obtaining certain strength, like Ginsberg himself in his interview implied, to be who you are.