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HOWL

Director: ROB EPSTEIN & JEFFREY FRIEDMAN

84 minutes| U.S.A.| 2010| Colour| D-Cinema


EXCLUSIVELY AT IFI

By turns ecstatic and earthy, the jazzy incantation of Allen Ginsberg’s epic 1955 poem Howl is now long established in literary history, yet this drama-doc hybrid takes a cogent look at the highly-charged personal and cultural context of its writing when the work’s erotic candour landed the publisher in court on obscenity charges. While a stellar cast (including David Strathairn and Mad Men star Jon Hamm as rival attorneys) invests the transcribed trial scenes with vivid seriousness and wry absurdity, the film’s trump card is really James Franco’s memorable incarnation of the young Ginsberg. Sympathetic in portraying the poet’s formative struggles with shame and repression, his contribution is even more exhilarating when performing Howl to an appreciative Beatnik audience. He’s so compelling that the film’s animated illustrations almost seem beside the point, though co-directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (Common Threads) never lose sight of the key idea that literary, sexual and political freedoms are indeed one and the same thing. (Notes by Trevor Johnston).

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