From Oct ’10 Spotlight:
Meeting face-to-face with co-directors Rob Epstein and Jeff Friedman recently, I asked them point blank: “Is Howl a Jewish film?” “No,” quipped Epstein (who won an Oscar in 1984 for his documentary The Times of Harvey Milk), “it’s a legal brief from the firm of Ginsberg, Epstein, and Friedman!”
“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness…”
So begins Allen Ginsberg’s Howl which revolutionized both poetry & performance art in the supposedly staid 1950s. Genre-busting film combines historical reenactment with brilliant animation into a Howl PoemPic (not to be confused with an Allen Ginsberg BioPic).
In 1955, “Ginsberg” (warmly portrayed by James Franco) completes Howl & reads it for the first time in a smoky beatnik bar. The scene is electric. Everyone in the room knows they’ve just witnessed the beginning of the end of Eisenhower’s America, just as today’s audience, with the benefit of hindsight, sees the birth of the ’60s.
Two year’s later, in 1957, Howl’s first publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, is on trial, charged with obscentity. Epstein & Friedman (who co-wrote the screenplay & co-directed the film) revel in the irony: Ginsberg, searching for authenticity, knows when he’s performing, but the lawyers & the witnesses are oblivious. David Strathairn as prosecutor “Ralph McIntosh” is a pompous ass, whereas Jon Hamm as defense attorney “Jake Ehrlich” is the epitome of Playboy cool. Meanwhile Andrew Rogers, playing Ferlinghetti, watches silently as witness after witness appears in character on the stand (e.g., the prissy bitch, the old guard professor, the avant guard critic, etc, etc). Bob Balaban as judge “Clayton Horn” tries to keep order, but everyone knows the trial itself, whatever the outcome, now guarantees Howl’s future success.
Ginsberg, back in his New York apartment, is reflective, more concerned with the images in his own head than the highjinx in court. And by animating Eric Drooker’s wonderful drawings, Epstein & Friedman put us there too!
Photo courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.
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Click HERE for my f2f interview with Epstein & Friedman.
Click HERE for our FF2 haiku.