Sunday, March 13, 2011

Review: Howl

Grade: A

In the early 1950’s, beat poet Allen Ginsberg wrote a four part poem called Howl. When the poem is published, it is criticized by some people as being obscene for its language and strong sexual themes throughout. The publisher is brought to trial and the discussion begins as to whether or not the poem is actually obscene, what makes it literature and is the poem valid. While the trial is going on, Allen Ginsberg himself answers some questions about his poem.

I have a strong passion for the subject matter of Howl, so I thought I’d write a quick review about it and try to convince as many people to see it as possible, as it is a really good movie as well. Howl is an interesting movie as it could almost be a documentary, except for the fact that there are actors portraying all the people. It states very clearly at the beginning of the movie that every word spoken is accounted for and was actually spoken by the people speaking them in the movie. The movie has three different parts to it: first, the obscenity trial surrounding the poem Howl, second, an interview with Ginsberg wherein he discusses the different parts of the poem and third, a surreal animation of the poem and its themes.

So first I would like to discuss the trial aspect of the movie. I am a huge proponent of free speech, so much so that even though I despise the Phelps family and everything that they stand for, I applaud them for recently winning their Supreme Court case involving their freedom to spout their hate wherever they want. In my opinion, the obscenity trial that surrounded the poem was obscene itself. The fact that there were people who were trying to say that the poem was nothing but filth and can’t even be considered literature simply because it had some words in it that some people don’t like and because it discusses sexually very frankly, is crazy to me.

Second, the interview with Allen Ginsberg where he discusses the meanings of his poem and his inspiration behind it is really interesting to watch. James Franco (127 Hours, Milk) portrays Ginsberg in the movie and he does a wonderful job. Franco does a great job with the role and his performance reciting Ginsberg’s words as he describes why he wrote the poem and what it’s all about is fantastic.

But this all brings me to what I considered to be the best part of the movie, Franco, as Ginsberg, reciting Howl in a great theatrical manner while we watch a beautifully animated interpretation of the poem. The animation is apparently inspired by drawings that Ginsberg drew himself. The animation is beautiful and mesmerizing. I really found this part of the movie to be the most interesting part and really makes the movie worth watching.

The movie also features performances by Jon Hamm, Mary Louise Parker, Jeff Daniels, David Strathairn, Bob Balaban and more.

If you are a supporter of free speech, you need to see this movie. If you are a fan of Allen Ginsberg, his work and/or the poem Howl, this movie is a must see. If you like great animation, this movie is a must see. Howl is a great movie that completely flew under everybody’s radar and I can’t recommend it enough.

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