Friday, October 1, 2010

Check It. Howl.

Admittedly, it was the promise of James Franco that originally pulled me into seeing Howl. I had read Allen Ginsberg's controversial yet renowned work a few years ago, and quite frankly, it didn't really hit me. Cool writing, sure, but I didn't really get it (and I knew it was more on the fault of me than anyone else).

So when the screening for Howl began, I suddenly realized that I was getting myself into something that I didn't quite feel prepared for. I hadn't read much about the film beforehand -- I usually avoid reviews and such anyway -- but I really had no idea what it was supposed to be: a biopic? A strange experimental film? A conglomerate documentary of sorts? An interpretation of the poem?

It turned out to be none of that, and for the better. Howl is more like a portrait, one that fervently evokes the passion of the times and of Ginsberg. And quite truthfully too, as the whole film is composed entirely of historical records -- every word can be traced back verbatim to interviews and court records, and even many of the scenes were based off of photographs.

Using the poem as a structure, the film covers Ginsberg (Franco, great as always) doing the first public reading of "Howl" in a coffee shop, an interview where he waxes nostalgically about his past with Jack Kerouac and Carl Solomon (to whom the poem is dedicated), and the obscenity trial surrounding the poem (featuring Jon Hamm and David Strathairn, both stunning). Swirling animations accompany the reading part, and though out-of-context I feel I would have hated them, it actually worked really well to illustrate the poem (albeit a little too literally). And really, there's a lot about this film that seems like it normally just wouldn't work, but somehow it all does. It's passionate but not overwrought, powerful but not cheesy.

And wow, really: what a poem.

Howl is showing starting today at the Sunset Laemmle 5, located at 8000 Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood, or the Monica 4-Plex, located at 1332 2nd St. in Santa Monica.

-- Chau Tu

No comments:

Post a Comment