“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical”, perhaps the most iconic line in American 20th century poetry, is the opening to Allen Ginsberg’s notorious 1955 poem, Howl, which gives the film its title. Few poems have had such an impact on American culture than the Beat Generation guru’s counterblast against Eisenhower’s 1950’s conservatism, spontaneous evocation of Beatnik cool and battle cry against the persecution of gays and all others that did not conform to US post war bourgeois orthodoxy. A forerunner to Rock & Roll, Dylan and the Who’s Sixties own take on ‘my generation’ blazing contempt, this is the outsider fighting back, a new counter culture in the making.
Ginsberg introduced his cultural ‘time bomb’ to the world during a reading at Beat haunt, San Fran’s Six Gallery to a rapturous crowd. Beatnik legend Jack Kerouac and other like-minded urban hipsters cheered Ginsberg’s impassioned delivery every step of the way. Gone were the conventions of the poetic form, gone was the traditional poetic reading, this was the start of poetry as performance, the origins of rap. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, of City Lights bookshop fame, was in the audience that night and, with a full understanding of his absolute social obligation, he did not delay publishing.
The Establishment reacted with a rash shot from the hip. It charged Ferlinghetti with obscenity and thereby lifted Howl from back street obscurity to overnight fame. Its promulgation was guaranteed under the full glare of a media trial and the rest, as they say, is history.
Jeffrey Friedman & Rob Epstein’s new film dramatises this short period and captures the culturally defining moment with an intensity that would have been lost with a full blown biopic.
James Franco is much in demand following his Oscar nominated portrayal in 127 Hours of the real life extrovert rock climber that fate cruelly restrained. Now, he applies his considerable skill in playing introvert Ginsberg turned electrifying performer at the smokey Six Gallery. In a performance reminiscent of Hoffman’s Lenny Bruce, there is an immediacy in Franco’s absolute conviction that connects with the audience in ways that are normally the preserve of a live show.
There is a casual interview with an unseen journalist based on a series of actual interviews that Ginsberg gave post-publication. Franco’s expert characterisation offers many insights into Ginsberg’s vulnerability, fears and powerful intellect that mould the man, mould the poet. In contrast to the spellbinding spontaneity of Howl’s every line – “the world is holy! the soul is holy! the skin is holy! – Ginsberg’s responses are not only considered but delivered with an irresistible purposefulness that quietly taps us on the shoulder and says listen and listen carefully, listen to this sage and take note. Spontaneous Howl maybe but this is a spontaneity that is very very knowing.
There is nothing remotely spontaneous about the staid court proceedings as liberated defence lawyer and ultra conservative Populist state attorney rehearse the arguments that would define much US political debate for the next 50 years. This is not Ginsberg’s world and he does not attend. The evocative black and white monochrome docu aesthetic of the Ginsberg scenes now gives way to a sumptuous colour exposing abundant opulence in every shot. We are not witnessing an American Lady Chatterley’s scandal, but the precursor of the civil rights movement, the first call for a genuine US democracy, a genuine US freedom.
The film abandons a linear narrative in favour of intercutting between these three episodes to telling effect. Far from being a Ginsberg biopic in the traditional sense, this is a contextualisation of a vital cultural document and its immediate impact. Is it a sad reflection of contemporary Western society or a mark of Ginsberg’s genius that Howl has lost none of its relevance today?
In a neat touch, Ginsberg’s own illustrator, virtuoso graphic artist Eric Drooker, chips in with some fine animation. Imaginative and striking, it provides impressive visual form to Ginsberg’s imagery, to the “haunted streets” of the “saxophone cry”.
Surprisingly, the Californian court, a judiciary for an elite, found in favour of progressive publisher Ferlinghetti. This was a victory for Modernist literature, a victory for free speech and a victory for those “visionaries whose faculties of divination” so disturbed the establishment. But as history tells us, this was only the beginning and much remains to be done.cost for cialis from walmartgeneric cialis vs brand cialis reviewsgeneric cialiscialis pricecialis for salediscount cialis