This is the film I was most looking forward to at the London film festival and I was disappointed. In fairness we were sitting in the front row right up against the screen, so this may distort my experience of the film slightly.
I love James Franco, he’s a great actor and just gorgeous too. Although I don’t think he looks like Alan Ginsberg. I love Howl. I bought and read it about five or six years ago after reading On the Road by Kerouac. I read it again recently after doing some poetry classes.
It’s a stream of consciousness poem and in my mind I read it quickly. It has a fast syncopated rhythm, and the images flick quickly like jump cuts or a train journey. It also crackles with gay sexual energy.
So the worst thing about this movie was the tedious lumpen Disney Fantasia style animation, that illustrates literally every line of the poem as it’s read – very slowly. Impressionist painted skies and graphic phallic shaped buildings sit behind Poser style CGi characters. All having straight sex or blowing on saxophones or worse still, flying through the sky like Angels from What Dreams May Come.
It’s not avant- garde, or Gay or sexy, it doesn’t even have rhythm or reflect the look or feel of the era in which the poem is set. It just utterly shit.
The poetry is a smash of words and they could have used graphic design and film clips and fifties drawn animation to reflect this. They should have had someone like Jonathon Cauette to make these sequences. They should be a collision of Genet drawings, Warhol 16mm, period stock footage, graphics, Tom of Finland, porn movies, and National Film Board animation mashed together.
But really, the best solution would be not to make the film at all, because the rest of the story is just a few set pieces – James Franco as Ginsberg gives the first reading of the poem. The obscenity trial. A talking head interview two years later. Plus a few clips of him hanging out with the other beats.
All of these are based verbatim on transcipts and tapes that have been made into the script. So why do it? Why not use the material to make an avant garde documentary? These guys are documentary makers after all?
The end was good. A charge of emotion but it’s the end of the poem that creates this, not the movie. Maybe poetry is better as poems and films as films. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a good mix of the two.