Howl (2010) – Robb Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman

As per my usual Friday night ritual, as opposed to planting my seat in a bar, I found myself at Angelika Film Center on West Houston above SoHo, lining up to see Howl upon it’s second day of release. Admittedly I have always been more exposed to Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs than I have Allen Ginsberg‘s works, and the first time I came across him at all was from the film The Last Time I Committed Suicide (1997) on a hazy drunken night in poor HD format on a 4:3 Youtube screen. The film starring a young Thomas Jane and Keanu Reeves, loosely captured the idea of the Beats through a portrayal of Neal Cassidy and his bohemian circle of friends. Subsequently I received On the Road (Kerouac) and Howl and Other Poems (Ginsberg) for my past few birthdays, and became a cliched groupie to that period since.

Howl the film took me by surprise. I originally imagined it to be either a pure biopic or a solid adaption – but it was neither, yet both, or something of no way formulaic that danced loosely in between. Robb Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman of The Celluloid Closet (1995) and The Times of Harvey Milk (1984) has attempted to recapture what Howl, the poem may have sounded and felt like at the moment of its creation, focusing on the art itself, as opposed to the biography of the artist or a response to a work of art. Apart from a revealing interview Ginsberg gave in 1957, we get a smidgen of his personal relationships and little of his past. The jazzy rhythms and bold animations adapted from illustrator Eric Drooker‘s graphic novels added pictorial brilliance to the film – a little bit dark and a little bit crazy (type writers and dark figures literally bursting into flames), depicting Ginsberg’s ode into a sequence of visual metaphors. The film has then taken the celebrated piece and made it come to live.

Dashing James Franco disappears into the young, gay, Jewish, self-doubting and bespectacled Ginsberg at the age of 29 in 1955 – a poet, counter-culture adventurer and chronicler of the Beats Generation. He recounts the search for personal liberation via sex, drugs, road trips and the American Landscape that led to his most timeless work of his career, and the obscenity court case of Lawrence Ferlinghetti (of City Light Publishers) that followed course.

P.S. John Hamm and David Strathairn battling it out in the court scene as defense attorneys was highly entertaining yet somewhat distracting – I can never take Hamm as anyone else other than Don Draper after Mad Men.

Read the interview with Erik Drooker re: Howl here.

To listen to the original reading of Howl by Ginsberg himself, click here (Part 1) and here (Part 2).

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2 Responses to “Howl (2010) – Robb Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman”
  1. Stephen says:

    James Franco doesn’t have to disappear into being Jewish, he IS Jewish. His mother is Jewish.

    For future reference:
    Actors of fully Jewish background: -Logan Lerman, Natalie Portman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mila Kunis, Bar Refaeli, James Wolk, Julian Morris, Esti Ginzburg, Kat Dennings, Erin Heatherton, Odeya Rush, Anton Yelchin, Paul Rudd, Scott Mechlowicz, Lizzy Caplan, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Gal Gadot, Robert Kazinsky, Melanie Laurent, Marla Sokoloff, Shiri Appleby, Justin Bartha, Adam Brody, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Gabriel Macht, Halston Sage, Seth Gabel, Alden Ehrenreich.

    Actors with Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers -Jake Gyllenhaal, Dave Franco, Scarlett Johansson, Daniel Radcliffe, Alison Brie, Eva Green, Emmy Rossum, Jennifer Connelly, Eric Dane, Jeremy Jordan, Joel Kinnaman.

    Actors with Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers, who themselves were either raised as Jews and/or identify as Jews: -Andrew Garfield, Ezra Miller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Alexa Davalos, Nat Wolff, James Maslow, Josh Bowman, Ben Foster, Nikki Reed, Zac Efron, Jonathan Keltz.

    Actors with one Jewish-born parent and one parent who converted to Judaism -Dianna Agron, Sara Paxton (whose father converted, not her mother), Alicia Silverstone, Jamie-Lynn Sigler.

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  1. […] this clip of Johnny reciting Kerouac’s work just as James Franco recently did for Ginsberg in Howl. I love this and thought I’d share it with you […]



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