Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Coming Soon: HOWL (2010)

Thanks to the fine folks over at Ain't It Cool News, I got to attend a preview screening of HOWL, staring James Franco, tonight which was followed by a question and answer session with the film's co-directors and co-writers, Rob Epstein and Jeffery Friedman.

For those not familiar with the subject of the film, HOWL is a poem written/performed by Allen Ginsberg in 1956. While it gained some popularity on merit alone among the beat poet community, it came into the national (and world eye) when the company that published it was charged with producing and selling obscene material due to the adult language, sexual acts, and drug use the poem spoke of. I was first exposed to it in a college literature class and while I didn't immediately fall in love with the poem, its uniqueness and my teacher's lessons brought about a through enjoyment of it.

The film features three main, inter-cutting story lines to create a film practically as unique as the poem it comes from. The first is Allen Ginsberg, played by James Franco, reading Howl while accompanying animations amaze the viewer, not just by illustrating the words but capturing their emotion and metaphors perfectly. Next are re-enacted scenes from the obscenity trial, featuring Jon Hamm and David Strathaim as opposing counsel, to examine both the conflicting critical thoughts on the poem as well as the censorship in question and on art in general. Lastly is an interview with Franco's Ginsberg, exposing not just his views on Howl but poetry, life, love, censorship, politics, and art. Blending these three narratives, Epstein and Friedman create a film that not only is spectacular to watch and loose yourself in but defies genre classification.

With the writer and director pair coming from mostly documentary work, most would try to classify it as an artistic bio-pic but it really transcends that. The film, instead breathes new life not only into Ginsberg or the court transcripts, but the poem itself making for a truly unique experience. The themes of sexuality, oppression, judgment, and heartbreak are just a few of the subjects covered sensationally in the poem and film, making the latter not just a regular adaptation but one that also beats with its own visual heart. It wouldn't be so though, without numerous other factors at work outside of narrative.

Acting in the film is phenomenal, with James Franco yet again proving how great he is at capturing the essence of real people. I first saw it a made-for-tv James Dean bio-pic (a film the directors also mentioned as enjoying him in), and while I haven't seen Milk I am sure it was prevalent there as well. Following at a close second is the astounding animations of the poem. Their fluid movement, great color, and the particular style really leaves one dazzled. While I could go on and gush about more of the film, such as the greatness of its score, I will leave somethings for you to discover when you see it.

Should come as no surprise if you have read the review so far but I am giving this one a 5 our of 5 stars, and it has quickly jumped to being one of my favorites of the year. Can't be too surprised though since it is yet another film being distributed by Oscilloscope Laboratories, they really know how to pick them (at least for my taste anyways.) While I know some people will still see this film and the poem as obscene, I encourage everyone to go check it out. Might open your perspective up on some things.

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