HOWL Review

I had no previous knowledge of either Ginsberg or his poem before watching 'HOWL'. Given this little movie was given a big boast by the names attached to it I was rather interested what attracted them to it and why what seemed to be an Oscar-bait type film had not garnered much attention. To address that directly would be to tell you what the film does. We are told before the movie begins this is very much like a documentary, that every word spoken in the film was spoken by these real people. It is an interesting concept intertwining interviews, a trial concerning the poems obscenity and flashbacks to Ginsberg reading his work. The three flow together seamlessly, each building from one another, the reasons for certain things being explained, the causes for thought processes and the justification for being artsy all collides in a concise tale concerning the literary world.

In the title role of Ginsberg we have the current man of the moment, James Franco. He plays Ginsburg as a high intellectual with a flair for absurd humor. We can see Franco's own persona seep through at times, but as I am not familiar with the real life Ginsburg I found this to be rather comforting. And though I can see Franco here, knowing who he is as an actor this is no doubt as close to a representation of the true Ginsburg as he could give us. He is an interesting person, and though the film focuses more on his work and the trouble it created than the man himself, it is in the moments when we actually get to listen to Franco spout Ginsburgs musings that the film really shines.

Sure, the trial is interesting, and I highly doubt you could find two better actors than Jon Hamm and David Strathairn to portray the lawyers fighting for and against this poem. Both are given some pretty meaty dialogue, especially in their closing statements that really make the purpose not only of this film known, but they research and conclude a fair assessment on the world of art. I found Hamm's final speech to be very powerful stuff. And though I am someone who finds all different kinds of things interesting I would never call myself an artsy type person. That is where I have to figure out the line between real art and simple vulgarity or being shocking for shocks sake. I find this an interesting topic and so the conflict in the courtroom only heightened the introspective looks into Ginsbergs mind through the small clips of interviews I mentioned earlier. There is a difference between being odd and being clever. Ginsburgs poem was certainly taken both ways. I can in no way judge the poem for I have no context for it and did not get a clear, one-through reading of it. Instead I was treated to Franco reading it to to the images his words provoked through animation.

The animation was nicely done and looked similar to the sequence David Yates used in the latest "Harry Potter" film. I found it certainly an interesting way to convey the point of these very abstract words that were put together, but it didn't flow with the rest of the movie as well as I would have hoped. Overall still, I found the film to be nothing short of interesting. An odd, probably common tale of a homosexual poet trying to let his voice be heard, but interesting non the less. and 'HOWL' has certainly made some type of impact on the literary world or I would not be writing or thinking about it now. I will not let that fact slip my mind, I realize the importance of the work, even if the controversy around it made it a bigger deal than it ever should have been.