Lucked out on the opening weekend of the 16th Int. Philly gay film festival (Qfest) with three strong films- Beautiful Darling about Warhol superstar Candy Darling, Handsome Harry, a drama about a closeted veteran’s haunted past and the most unlikely hit about the publication of Allen Ginsberg’s first book of poems.
Fascinating as Ginsberg was throughout his life, it is improbable to think that a mainstream movie about the life outside of a documentary would get made. But HOWL by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman is stealing everybody’s hearts and minds on the gay film festival circuit and headed for a strong release this fall.
It brings the world of the rebellious gay liberte Ginsberg while he was composing HOWL, perhaps the most influential poem of the 20th century and the now storied journeys of the Beats- Neal Cassidy, Jack Kerouac, et.al.
Howl is part bio-pic, part documentary and frames a tour de force performance by James Franco as Ginsberg. Franco, who bears an uncanny natural resemblance to James Dean, pulls off looking remarkable like a young Allen. There is so much restraint, detailing and passion in his performance.
‘There is no Beat generation.’ Ginsberg says in an interview session ’It’s just a bunch of writers trying to get published.’ Franco articulates Ginsberg’s honesty so beautifully. There aren’t many substantive films about the artists and concrete facts about creative process-Julian Schnabel’s Basquait and Derek Jarmen‘s Caravaggio come to mind- but they are few and far between. HOWL is one of them.
Franco resides inside the poem as he recites the entire thing throughout the course of the film. The filmmakers use Ginsberg’s illustrated poems in animation to turn Howl’s imagery into a trippy and harrowing fantasia. A hypnotic contrast to Edward Lachman’s period cinematography of 16mm graininess Ginsberg’s apartment or the black and white verite of the poetry scene of the 50.