Ginsberg ushers in cultural revolution in uneven 'Howl'
In a San Francisco coffeehouse in 1955, a "29-year-old unpublished poet" and former advertising copywriter stood up and read a poem that ushered in the beat era and revolutionized the culture. His name was Allen Ginsberg, the poem was "Howl," and that historic reading—combined with the obscenity trial that followed, and the complex emotional journey Ginsberg took to write it—are all celebrated in the ambitious, but wildly uneven Howl.
Co-written and directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (the documentary filmmakers who made The Celluloid Closet and The Times of Harvey Milk), the film is blessed with a fascinating performance by James Franco as the young Ginsberg. Franco has done his homework, especially in capturing the familiar, somewhat nasally and flat, yet exultant voice in which the poet reads his poem; the film's best moments come from the pleasure of watching Franco's Ginsberg in the ecstatic grip of his muse.