Howl

Howl

DVD - 2011?
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Allen Ginsberg recounts the road trips, love affairs, and search for personal liberation that led to the most timeless, electrifying, and controversial work of his career. Pushing the limits and challenging the mainstream, the passionate and provocative Howl and its publisher find themselves on trial for obscenity, with prosecutor Ralph McIntosh setting out to have the book banned, while defense attorney Jake Ehrlich fervently argues for freedom of speech and creative expression.
Publisher: [United States] : Oscilloscope Laboratories, [2011?]
Branch Call Number: DVD HOWL
Characteristics: 1 videodisc (84 min.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in

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j
jimg2000
Dec 24, 2017

theorbys' Sep 10, 2013 comment was right on and what a timely topic in today's attack on free speech. An excellent reading of the poem Howl published in 1956 by Allen Ginsberg when homosexuality was deemed a mental disorder. From the DVD cover:

James Franco gives a career-defining performance as the young Allen Ginsberg -- "poet, counter-culture adventurer, and chronicler of the Beat Generation -- "in HOWL, the audacious film from Academy Award®-winning filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. Franco as Ginsberg recounts the road trips, love affairs, and search for personal liberation that led to the most timeless, electrifying, and controversial work of his career: Howl. Pushing the limits and challenging the mainstream, the passionate and provocative Howl and its publisher found themselves on trial for obscenity, with prosecutor Ralph McIntosh (David Strathairn) setting out to have the book banned, while defense attorney Jake Ehrlich (Jon Hamm) fervently argues for freedom of speech and creative expression. The proceedings veer from the comically absurd to the passionate as a host of unusual witnesses (Jeff Daniels, Mary-Louise Parker, Treat Williams, Alessandro Nivola) pit generation against generation and art against fear in front of conservative Judge Clayton Horn (Bob Balaban).

Suggest that there are other worthwhile feature films on the poets of the beat generation: Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, e.g. "Kill Your Darlings 2013" and "Naked Lunch 1991."

a
AmyEighttrack
Jan 06, 2015

This puts many of the other films about the Beats to shame. Make sure you Don't... Miss... This One, if you're a fan.
Well, okay. I'm a big Ginsberg fan. I loved James Franco's portrayal/characterization. It's very believable, in a lot of ways. Even if, only because I wanted to believe it. Everything was well researched and thoughtfully put together.
It had a clear point of view about Ginsberg - I liked that. Maybe they gilded the lily, somewhat - but so what? Ginsberg stands up to it. He Deserves to be romanticized.

What comes through, though, is self assurance, belief in self, an inspired authority about writing, and a human quality.
If you're interested in writing, you'll want to see this. Listen to the commentary, too! Virtually every bit of dialogue was culled from interviews and court records.
Unbelievable! But it wasn't so long ago. Coming out of the McCarthy era and the repressed Fifties, the uproar and trial over the publication of Howl was a game-changing watershed in American law and free speech.

neris1960 Sep 26, 2014

As Allen Ginsberg talks about his life and art, his most famous poem is illustrated in animation while the obscenity trial of the work is dramatized.

akirstan Feb 23, 2014

Brilliant execution of cinematography,
animation and acting.

l
lalalady
Nov 07, 2013

Having been no fan of Ginsberg I was very pleased to discover the power of his writing - as spoken word, finding the readings the most memorable and affecting part of the movie. The courtroom scenes were an excellent lesson in the dangers of censorship and the successful application of law when it is paying attention to core values.

theorbys Sep 10, 2013

This is AnneDromeda's comment from May 16, 2011 below, and I agree with it and quote it: This movie is an accomplishment for which all involved should be proud. It follows the obscenity trial faced by Lawrence Ferlinghetti after publishing Ginsberg's *Howl*. Courtroom drama is fleshed out by inserting scenes in which Ginsberg explains his inspirations (including flashbacks to critical life events), and gives a reading of his poem. All of this is juxtaposed with vivid, visceral dream sequences (illustrated by Eric Drooker) providing a visual interpretation of the poem. The direction of this film is incredibly intricate, and very well done. The courtroom scenes and the scenes in which Ginsberg discusses his inspirations are shot to look as though they were captured using film and cameras contemporary to the obscenity trial. Flashbacks to Ginsberg's formative days are shot in grainy black and white, as are the scenes in which he gives what looks like his first reading of Howl. In contrast to the relatively lo-fi, analogue feel of the live action scenes, Eric Drooker's illustrated poem sequences hit the eye and the mind like a peyote trip. The animation is graceful, clean, surreal, incredibly vivid, and absolutely in keeping with Ginsberg's vision of love sanctifying the earthly and profane. The entire cast turns in strong performances, most notably James Franco, who improbably captures Ginsberg with such chemistry that it's hard to believe he didn't win awards. Mary Louise Parker, Jon Hamm and others also make notable, well-cast and well-acted appearances. Much of the true-life feel of the film's dialogue hails from its source - extensive court and interview transcripts were mined in the writing of the script. On the whole, this is an incredibly engrossing film.

r
Ron@Ottawa
Aug 31, 2013

Unless you enjoy poetry immensely or are a fan of Ginsberg, there is nothing for you in this docu-drama. I stayed with it for as long as I could endure - some 15 minutes - and gave up.

Froster Jul 28, 2013

Kudos to all for having attempted this: really the biography of a poem. Franco is excellent--a nuanced, un-showy performance that is an affectionate portrait and an homage to a truly ground-breaking figure. But, unfortunately, the poem is portrayed in the most prosaic way possible...in distressingly literal animation that never, ever gets off the ground. What finally comes through admirably, however, is Ginsberg's honesty, if not his gifts. In fact, the poem itself seems mired in its time, and one is left thinking, "Hmm. If it weren't for all the fuss made over it, would anyone really even have noticed this poem? Would anyone still be reading it?" It's a sly, subversive point of view that the film-makers cleverly articulate during one of the trial scenes. Well done, guys.

jmmason Oct 09, 2012

Not bad "actual wordage" bio-pic of 50's poet Alan Ginsberg. James Franco (an acquired taste in my opinion) is too attractive to play the ugly Beat poet. I wonder if Jack Kerouac had been ugly if anybody would remember him.

kevfarley Apr 25, 2012

A worthy cultural historical
document. I fast forwarded some of it , and prefered the included "bonus" of Ginsburg actually reading "Howl", to the artsy animated version. The censorship trial is amazing,.. and the quotations totally accurate!! Hard to believe how up-tight the laws were then !!

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j
jimg2000
Dec 24, 2017

And did you form an opinion as to whether or not the book called "Howl and Other Poems" has any literary merit?
-I think it has no literary merit.
Go ahead.
-In order to have literary style, you must have form, diction, fluidity, clarity. Now, I am speaking only of style. And in content, every great piece of literature, anything that can really be classified as literature, is... of some moral greatness, and I think this fails to the nth degree.
I see. Can you think of any other reasons?
-Yes... Use of language. In regards to the figures of speech he uses, he fails in rhetoric, of course, for one thing, because his figures of speech are crude, and you feel like you are going through the gutter when you read that stuff. I didn't linger on it long, I assure you.

j
jimg2000
Dec 24, 2017

It is my opinion that if it has any literary value, it's negligible. I endeavored to arrive at my opinion on an objective basis. For example, a great literary work, or even a fairly great literary work, would obviously be exceedingly successful in form, but this poem is really just a weak imitation of a form that was used 80 to 90 years ago by Walt Whitman.
-And do you recall the name of that poem?
"Leaves of Grass" was the name of the poem. Literary value could also reside in theme, and what little literary value there is in "Howl," it seems to me does come in theme. The statement of the idea of the poem was relatively clear, but it has little validity, and, therefore, the theme has a negative value. No value at all.

j
jimg2000
Dec 24, 2017

"What do you want to do? What is your heart's desire?" Finally I said... what I'd really like to do is to just quit all this and... get a small room with Peter and devote myself to my writing and contemplation and fxcking and smoking pot and... doing whatever I want. And he said, "Why don't you do it, then?" I mean, what will happen if I grow old... and I have pee-stains in my underwear and I'm living in some furnished room and nobody loves me and I'm... white-haired and... I have no money, bread crumbs are falling on the floor?" And he said, "Don't worry about that, "you're very charming and lovable and people will always love you." What a relief to hear that!

j
jimg2000
Dec 24, 2017

I very soon realized that it was all... a fear-trap... Illusory! What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination? Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks! Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men! Peter and I saw Moloch one day when we took peyote and were wandering around downtown streets. It's a god that you make fire sacrifices to. But... in my mind, it was what drove my mother to madness. So, I had the line Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows.

j
jimg2000
Dec 24, 2017

But it's funny in our law, we are allowed to use expert witnesses to testify as to literary merit, but we are not allowed to bring in, we will say, the average man to testify that when he reads the book, he doesn't understand it. He doesn't know what it's all about. Perhaps it's over his head. Take, for example... Frankly, and I made the comment in open court that I'd read it, I don't understand it very well. In fact, looking it all over, I think it's a lot of sensitive bullshit, using the language of Mr. Ginsberg. So then, If the sale of a book is not being limited to just modern book reviewers and experts on modern poetry, but falls into the hands of the general public, that is to say, the average reader, this court should take that into consideration in determining whether or not "Howl" is obscene.

j
jimg2000
Dec 24, 2017

The United States Supreme Court has said that obscenity is construed to mean "having a substantial tendency to corrupt "by arousing lustful desires." Is the word relevant to what the author is trying to say, or did he just use it to be dirty and filthy? He sees what he terms as "an Adonis of Denver, joy to the memory "of his innumerable conquests. Who went out whoring through Colorado in myriad stolen night-cars Neal Cassady, secret hero of this poem, cocksman and Adonis of Denver, joy to the memory of his innumerable lays of girls in empty lots and diner backyards, moviehouses' rickety rows, on mountaintops in caves or with gaunt waitresses in familiar roadside lonely petticoat upliftings and especially secret gas-station solipsisms of johns, and hometown alleys too.

j
jimg2000
Dec 24, 2017

Now, I suppose he could have said that, the secret hero of these poems, this "cocksman," this "Adonis of Denver," joy to memory of his innumerable conquests at the Waldorf Astoria... or at dinner at Chasen's, or after one or two drinks, in going to bed at the Stork Club. I presume he could have said that... but that isn't the kind of person he is writing about. … Now whether "Howl" is or is not "obscene" is of little importance to our world, faced as it is with the threat of physical survival, but... the problem of what is legally permissible in the description of sexual acts or feelings in arts and literature is of the greatest importance to a free society.

j
jimg2000
Dec 24, 2017

What is "prurient"? And to whom? And the material so described is dangerous to some unspecified, susceptible reader. It is interesting that the person applying such standards of censorship rarely feels as if their own physical or moral health is in jeopardy. The desire to censor is... not limited, however, to crackpots and bigots. There is... in most of us, a desire to make the world conform to our own views. And it takes all of the force of our own reason as well as our legal institutions to defy so human an urge. The battle of censorship will not be finally settled by Your Honor's decision, but you will either add to liberal, educated thinking, or by your decision, you will add fuel to the fire of ignorance. Let there be light. Let there be honesty. Let there be no running from non-existent destroyers of morals. Let there be honest understanding.

j
jimg2000
Dec 24, 2017

The poem is misinterpreted as... a promotion of homosexuality. Actually, it's... more like a promotion of frankness, about any subject. If you're a foot fetishist, you write about feet. If you're a stock-market freak, you can write about the rising sales-curve erections of the Standard Oil chart. When a few people are... frank about homosexuality in public, it breaks the ice. Then people are free to be frank about anything and... That's socially useful. Homosexuality is a condition, and because it alienated me or set me apart from the beginning, it served as a catalyst for self-examination, or... a detailed realization of my environment and... the reasons why everyone else is different and why I am different.

j
jimg2000
Dec 24, 2017

There are a number of words used in "Howl" that are presently considered coarse and vulgar in some circles of the community, and in other circles, such words are in everyday use. The author of "Howl" has used those words because he believed that his portrayal required them as being in character. The People state that such words are not necessary and that others would be more palatable for good taste. The answer is that life is not encased in one formula whereby everyone acts the same and conforms to a particular pattern.

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