Howl, which is based on a true story, tells how a youthful poet inadvertently fought the government by speaking his mind and subjecting the world of conservative America to words and thoughts that they felt shouldn’t be expressed.
His poem, which shares its name with the film, was presented in four separate parts, and though the film focuses closely on the life of Ginsberg, the poem is read in full throughout. Often jumping back and forth between live action and cleverly animated sequences that showcase the words being used, the poem becomes the center block for the story, often changing the setting, tone or view at just the right moments.
Whether it is a scene about Ginsberg’s personal life (which I personally found equally as fascinating as the rest of the film), one from the court cases performed to determine if the poem was legally obscene, or from a public reading amongst many of his peers, the film carried an aroma of prestige and significance.
The black and white presentation, mixed with randomly interjected color sequences, made for a quick moving feature – one that told the bare facts of the story, serving more as an awareness tool rather than a convincing argument. By doing this the film left politics out of the formula, paving the way for a heartwarming story about a man who changed history without truly meaning to.
Aside from Franco, who was in nearly 90% of the film, Mary-Louise Parker and Jeff Daniels compliment the young actor as they provide timely cameos during the court cases that interject within the film’s story. The court cases offer the true meaning of the film, and the reason for the poem’s immense notoriety; however, both actors often fall by the wayside as soon as Franco takes to the screen.
It seems only fitting that Allen Ginsberg, a revolutionary mind of his generation, be played by James Franco, a revolutionary actor of ours. It is a rare formula, and it works brilliantly here. Howl is a different type of movie, and it takes both concentration and acceptance in order to fully experience the story. For those that can muster up the courage to open your mind, this film will be a wonderful experience; for those who can’t, you will likely leave the theater disappointed. In all honesty, the verdict is as simple as that.