The central story line of the movie focuses on the obscenity charges and trial brought forth in response to the publication of Howl by City Lights, and the ensuing media shit storm that enveloped the proceedings. A train of literary experts, scholars, and critics argue for and against the merit of Ginsberg’s writing. The ultra-conservative prosecuting attorney provides loads of entertainment while wrestling with presenting all of the “cunts, and cocks, and assholes” sprinkled throughout Howl that serves as evidence of the homo-commie-drug conspiracy to subvert our nation’s youth.
James Franco, who portrays Ginsberg, carries the the story through a series of interviews in one of the story lines. Franco delivers a believable Ginsberg, laying out a reasonable facsimile of the poet’s vocal patterns, phrasings, and mannerisms. These scenes come across just as the original videotape from the interview must have been… Ginsburg relaxed in his apartment, years later revealing the progression of his career, and the events that unfolded around the trial, as in a casual conversation with a friend.
Story number three is a reenactment of the “legendary” night considered to be the “birth of the Beat Generation” when six upcoming poets read their works at the Six Gallery. Again Franco delivers a respectable Ginsberg, riffing on the rhythms of the poem, actually delivering the poem to the audience in a way that feels authentic.
The first 3 stories each make an honest effort at accurately depicting the characters portrayed, and getting the dialogue right. The cinematography is excellent, and everything comes together into one nice cohesive and “authentic” package.
The only odd piece of the puzzle really comes in the form of the fourth storyline. The narrative of Ginsberg reading Howl bleeds through into the animation sequences, which at times serve to enhance the story, but at other times wanders into pointless overindulgence (like watching Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” without the justification of having a brain full of LSD.) The CGI aspects of the animation diminish the quality of the scenes, reducing them to a cheesy “low budget” experience.
In defense of the questionable animation sequences, the “extra features” section has some excellent material where the animator Eric Drooker talks about his experiences working with Ginsberg, while working on some stills for the movie. This provided some valuable insight into why this material was included in the movie, and would probably enhance the overall movie experience if watched beforehand.
Howl is available on dvd @ the Grand Rapids Public Library