Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Amazing, Unorthodox 'Howl'

Howl is one amazing but radically unorthodox feature film.

The first non-documentary by the famed factual filmmaking team of Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman--who fashioned the landmark flicks The Celluloid Closet and The Times Of Harvey Milk--Howl may not be the straightforward Beatnik biography audiences might be expecting.

Instead, Epstein and Friedman have decided to explore and explicate the epic 1956 poem itself, with only minor character flourishes to acknowledge writer Allen Ginsberg’s extraordinary life.

Of course, it helps that the electrifying actor James Franco plays Ginsberg, and that an amazing cast--from Mad Men’s John Hamm, to the likes of Treat Williams, Bob Balaban and David Straithairn--populate the dramatized sequences of the poem’s famed obscenity trial.

But what Epstein and Friedman really want to do is present how Howl felt as it was read aloud--which Franco does, pretty much in its entirety--fleshing out some of the more excessive imagery with fluid animated bits that help ease the sheer rush of verbiage as it hits the screen.

The result is a film that captures the idea of Howl--and its extraordinary times of restlessness and rebellion--that marked the Beat Era arrival on the international literary and arts scene.

Considering that Nova Scotia has become something of the final destination for Beat Era survivors and associates from the novelist and screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer to the composer Philip Glass to the sculptor Richard Serra and finally the whole Shambala gang who transferred over from Boulder, Colorado, having Howl at the Atlantic Film Festival could be considered something of a homecoming.

Whatever the case, the film is an absolutely riveting watch, and has already sent me back to my audio recordings of Ginsberg, Kerouac and Ferlingetti.

Those expecting that straightforward biography might take heart in the fact that that a Hollywood film version of Jack Kerouac’s touchstone novel On The Road is on again, this time with Viggo Mortensen in the lead.

Mind you it’s a project that once was scheduled for the likes of Marlon Brando in the 1950s through to Johnny Depp on the 1990s, so I guess we’ll believe it when we see it up on the big screen.

Meanwhile, Howl is one of those ‘can’t miss movies’ at this year’s AFF.  (posted by Senior Programmer, Ron Foley MacDonald)

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