Directed by: Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman
Graphics: award winning New York designer Eric Drooker
Starring: James Franco & Jon Hamm
Official Selection at Sundance and London Film Festivals.
“The poem that rocked a generation
The obscenity trial that started a revolution”
Directed by leading filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman – and brilliantly part-animated by Eric Drooker, the visionary former street artist responsible for some of the most brilliant New Yorker covers of recent decades – Howl (released in 2010, thirteen years after Allen Ginsberg’s death) tells the story of the genesis of the Beats in the 1940s; the creation, in the early 1950s, of the most important (and systematically iconoclastic) American poem of the twentieth century; and the absolute cliff-hanger of a landmark obscenity trial that followed its publication.
With all the ferocity of an Old Testament prophet, Ginsberg – a permanently thoughtful young man from Paterson, New Jersey, and, in his own way, a bit of a nebbish, as Woody Allen might have said – fought back against an age of anxiety and crushing conformity, shattering almost every poetic convention in order to create the totally new type of verse – shamanistic and incantatory, jazz-inflected and drug-addicted, unashamedly sexually explicit, visibly haunted by madness – with which he wanted to register his profound opposition to the institutional insanity and social stultification he saw all around him in Eisenhower’s America – an America of political witch trials, racial segregation, and mindless preparation for Armageddon. Howl, first read in public at San Francisco’s Six Gallery on 7 October 1955, turned out in the end to be the literary equivalent of a city-busting hydrogen bomb. It changed the landscape of poetic language forever.
This superbly edited and beautifully paced movie holds three elements in perfect equilibrium – the lives of the Beats (‘just a bunch of guys,’ in Ginsberg’s words, ‘trying to get published’), the courtroom drama (Ginsberg’s publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, was facing professional and personal ruin), and the animation, in which Eric Drooker, backed by a team of technical wizards, gives a sort of ‘second voice’ to the poem, probing a Dantean underworld of waking nightmares and desolate dreams. It’s one big walk on the wild side in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge and fully deserves every accolade – there have been many – that it’s earned.
So … all you ‘skinny legions’ – quoting from Part III of Howl here – ‘run outside’ on 21 November, down to the West Norwood Feast Films Night at the Portico Gallery, where local people will be doing a lot of work to bring you not just a celebration of a wonderful writer from another time and place but also a tribute of sorts – a ‘Stand Up & Spout’ open-mic session, after the screening, where YOU TOO can throw yourself into the deep end of poetry by reading a poem of your choice in public. By reading a poem that DOES IT for you. Don’t be shy – Allen was a bit of wallflower in his youth, but when he had something to say, he really SAID IT!
‘O victory forget your underwear we’re free’
9.30pm Stand Up & Spout – open-mic. spoken word.
The Portico Gallery
23a Knight’s Hill