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MOVIE REVIEW: Howl

Bio-pic about Allen Ginsberg doesn't disappoint

Howl: Rates a B-.
Courtesy photo

Don’t go to this thinking you’re going to see a scary movie for Halloween. Well, unless you think censorship is scary.

This is a picture, no – a love letter – to a very brave and influential poet.

I’ve never been much of a fan of the beat poets/writers. Allen Ginsberg, in my book, would rank #4 (behind Burroughs, Kerouac, and Michael McClure).

Howl, the poem/book by Ginsberg, was certainly one of the most important pieces of literature in the 20th century. It was not only a powerful piece in the 1950s, it also caused a big obscenity trial.

It’s one of those pieces you know, even if you think you don’t.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked – dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix.

That’s some powerful stuff.

And this is a powerful movie about that poem, with enough facts and scenes of Ginsberg to just qualify as a bio-pic (must be nice to not have to remember most of your lines, since you’re reading from typed pages).

I was excited to see the cast assembled for this movie – Treat Williams, Jeff Daniels, Jon Hamm, Mary-Louise Parker, character actor Bob Balaban and David Strathairn (one of my favorite actors).

When most of them just popped up to testify in various scenes of the court case, I was less impressed. To me, that takes away from the picture. You sit there thinking – oh, there’s Jeff Daniels talking about Walt Whitman.

I didn’t think James Franco would be a good choice for Ginsberg, but the guy continues to show he can pull off any role thrown his way.

It’s weird how you can hear Val Kilmer is playing Jim Morrison, Jim Carey playing Andy Kaufman, Gretchen Mol as Bettie Page, and Franco in this. You immediately think – these actors look nothing like the people they’re playing; then they totally become the person and you can’t imagine anyone else having pulled it off so well.

A lot of people were probably turned off by the animation, but I thought it was ambitious and added a neat element to this piece of art. I’m guessing Ginsberg would’ve loved this film.

I liked the fact that the court scenes weren’t over the top. It wasn’t like Strathairn’s character was some religious nutjob quoting the bible and screaming like a madman. I did a little research though, and found out the court scenes were taken from the exact transcripts of the trial. That explains that.

I don’t necessarily think that has to be done when doing a movie about a real character, but there’s nothing more frustrating than watching a good movie like Frost/Nixon and then reading that entire scenes were fictional (like a drunk Nixon calling Frost on the phone to discuss their childhoods). Enough of that crap, Ron Howard!

I liked that they didn’t try to show a lot of things from the time period – signs saying “no blacks allowed,” or a movie marquee with Rebel Without a Cause. We understand what was going on during that time.

I found it odd that in a faux interview, Ginsberg was explaining what so many lines in the poem meant. Yet, another scene in the movie talks about how poetry can be interpreted different ways and you shouldn’t try to pin down an exact meaning. Some can argue the animation does that same thing, but I thought it created a nice visual.

I remember visiting a friend in Fort Collins, Colorado. She took me to this '50s diner called Taxi that she thought I’d love. I found it cheesy.

When we went to Boulder the next day…that was a town I fell in love with. It was beautiful. And I got to hit the Beat Book Shop, which is a place Ginsberg was often at (and it’s the town he started a school).

Not as a cool a story as one of Ginsberg’s (he was Jack Kerouac’s friend and is the one that got On the Road published).

I’m giving this movie a B-, but am guessing it will only appeal to a small percentage of people.

It’s a must for any writer.