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I'm not sure I get it. Is this supposed to be an Allen Ginsberg biopic? Or will it somehow attempt to make a narrative from the actual poem?:

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,

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the

starry dynamo in the machinery of night,

who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the

supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of

cities contemplating jazz,

who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels

staggering on tenement roofs illuminated,

who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkan-

sas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war,

[...etc.]

Because if the second is the plan...my view is: why bother? It's astounding as it is. Film will just make it banal and mundane or sentimental. O woez! the 50s were all repressive 2 ART!

If the first--surely there was more to Ginsberg than this? But I may be alone in finding "biographical criticism" boring.

There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. (George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie)

Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

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I'm not sure I get it.

It is supposedly going to be a pretty varied affair that skips between different styles and film formats. It will also focus quite a bit on the obscenity trial. These two have done other fairly non-standard documentaries on homosexual figures in history.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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It is supposedly going to be a pretty varied affair that skips between different styles and film formats. It will also focus quite a bit on the obscenity trial....

So, pretty much the "O woez! the 50s were all repressive 2 ART!" then. I still say: read the poem. Out loud. In public.

There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. (George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie)

Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

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  • 11 months later...

It played at Sundance today. Here's Jeffrey Wells with a positive report.

Oh good--poetry for people without imaginations. Do.Not.Want. But probably somebody will.

There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. (George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie)

Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

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  • 9 months later...

So, pretty much the "O woez! the 50s were all repressive 2 ART!" then. I still say: read the poem. Out loud. In public.

That repression bit is part of it, but the public recitation aspect is also there in spades. If you are a fan of the poem, it is well worth filing through the film just to hear Franco's captivating rendition. I am still not at all sure what to make of the film otherwise. The narrative through line is mainly the Ginsberg/Cassady relationship in a timely rendition of the "it gets better" motif.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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  • 4 weeks later...

Link to the second thread on this film.

Link to our thread on Howl's Moving Castle. Just because.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 5 months later...
  • 10 months later...

We're reading "Howl" in my poetry class next week, so I decided to check this out, despite the whole Starring James Franco thing. It's really uneven and felt longer than 85 minutes, but I thought the recitation and animation parts were done well. The rest of the movie gives the context of the poem, which is important, I suppose, but it didn't work as a movie all that well.

If I understood the notes at the beginning, the whole script was compiled from interviews and transcripts, so it's kind of a verbatim movie along the lines of The Arbor, except not nearly as engrossing or well-executed.

It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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Who couldn't love a movie named Howl?

Think I'll watch this after I finish up Pop Skull, which we have no thread for, which we may soon, because it is blowing my mind. Like - the once every ten years kind of blowing my mind. :)

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I kinda liked it... but not nearly as much as Pop Skull.

As noted, the best part of this is actually seeing James Franco blaze through the poem. Just beautiful.

Edited by Persona

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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  • 1 year later...

Just a note for anybody who still wants to see this, it only has one more day on Netflix Instant.

I just caught it, and I'm still deciding what to think. The most impressive thing was how continuously it flowed. The four or five scenes it kept switching between--the interview, the trial, the reading in the cafe, and the animated sequences--allowed it to roll forward as the poem rolls forward, without stopping. Unfortunately the pace slacks off a good deal toward the end, and the conclusion of the obscenity trial, which was meant to be the dramatic climax, only shows how uninteresting the whole legal affair really was. James Franco's reading of the poem is very good, though a little out of order and cruelly abridged, with some of my favorite lines missing. Where's "incomparable blind streets of shuddering cloud and lightning in the mind"? Where's "Moloch whose mind is pure machinery"? The animation was kind of cool. I didn't find any of it amazing, and that's too bad because Howl the poem is very amazing indeed.

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  • 5 months later...
  • 6 years later...

I saw Kill Your Darlings two nights ago and decided to watch Howl last night. Shockingly, Franco is good in this. And he reads the poem very well, mostly because he's committing a note-perfect impersonation of Ginsberg's reading style. I didn't expect the movie to feel so much like a documentary, but it works on that level (my understanding--perhaps incorrect--is that much of this thing is based on interviews and transcripts of events for which there's presumably no film existing).

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The courtroom dialogue is reportedly lifted verbatim from the transcript of the actual trial, and I believe the interview-like segments all use Ginsberg's actual words (probably not from a single real-life interview, but I don't know about that). And of course the poem is the poem, slightly abridged and rearranged, as I recall, but otherwise unchanged. It's been years since I saw it, but I think those three elements account for the majority of the film's running time. So you could actually consider it a sort of documentary, if you wanted.

Franco is good in this, yeah. His reading of the poem is not unlike the recordings I've heard of Ginsberg reading the poem, but I'm told that Ginsberg changed the way he read it over the years. At first, including the poem's premiere at the Six Gallery shown in the film, his reading was even more expressionless. So there's a slight compromise with historicity there, but a well-justified one, since Franco's reading works so well. It works on the level of characterization too: it's like the voice that must have been in Ginsberg's head when he wrote the poem.

In any case, it's a much better film than Kill Your Darlings.

 

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I have a somewhat kinder opinion of Kill Your Darlings than you do, but I agree that Howl is better (partly precisely because it leans so far in the "documentary" direction--there's no need to make it fit a traditional narrative arc). The bit where Franco/Ginsberg walks through the choice of words "screamed with joy" is probably one of my favorite moments of on-screen textual analysis ever.

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Now I'm trying to think of other examples of "on-screen textual analysis," and wondering if there's a whole genre of literary documentaries and poetic meta-films that's been escaping me.

(Hmm...is there any in Poetry? It's been a long time since I saw that.)

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