“I Saw the Best Minds of my Generation Destroyed by Madness, Starving Hysterical Naked”

In Movies on August 8, 2012 at 11:23 am

So begins the epic three-part poem written by Allen Ginsberg which was made famous not only by its content but by the trial that ensued following the publication of this poem. Within this work, Ginsberg using such choice words as “blown” “balls” and “cock” which, in that day and age was seen as obscene. Because of these choice words and the stream of conscious writing style, which makes it extremely hard to understand, it was brought to trial to determine if its publication benefited society.

The trial, the poem, Ginsberg, and the ideas behind censorship and poetic understanding were covered in the movie Howl which starred James Franco, Jon Hamm, pretty much being Don Draper, this movie takes place in 1957 which is the heyday of Mad Men, Jeff Daniels, Mary-Louise Parker, and David Stathairn, who I feel like I haven’t seen enough of. He played the prosecuting attorney to a T, someone clearly uncomfortable and out of his element when it came to poetry, and truly believed that Howl showed no literary value. Jon Hamm is also quite excellent as the defense attorney for Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the publisher, and is simply Don Draper in a court room. I cannot get enough of Jon Hamm, it feels like, and seeing him in the 1950s defending the rights of publishers and poets just make me love that actor more. However, this role did not reveal a different side of Hamm to me, being that it seems like he is Don Draper attorney at law, BUT he still did quite a nice job.

The best part about this movie, aside from the presence of some great actors and actresses, is James Franco, the illustrations, and the poem itself. Throughout the film, the trial and the interview with Allen Ginsberg, who is played by Franco, are broken up by these phenomenal artistic renderings of Howl. We see the hipsters burning, we see Moloch, we see poor Carl Solomon getting his brain fried by the persistent use of ETC to treat eccentrics. We see all of this and it is a mixture of computer generated images and actual drawings. They are raw, obscene, but true to form. The drawings were actually done by Eric Drooker who drew for Ginsberg previously in Illustrated Poems. That’s another aspect of this movie that I liked; the amount of thought that went into it was necessary and excellent. The Ginsberg scenes were taken directly from interviews and the dialogue in the court was taken from court documents.  Hence why the acting and conversations are perfect and true, because well they are true.

Franco exuded that beat poet vibe like it was his own skin. His script did not need to be reworked to sound more true but he did need to look, sound, and feel like Ginsberg, which he did. He rambled. He droned. He laughed and he revealed himself. He confused the hell out of me and he made me understand just why he wrote Howl. From the stoner in Pineapple Express  to the Green Goblin in Spiderman, to Alan Ginsberg, Franco has been showing just how versatile he can be. I cannot wait to see Franco grow older and more powerful in each performance he decides to take.

The poem itself is also worth mentioning because, well it is what this film is based around but it is the star of this show. When I first began watching this film, I wasn’t sure I had heard of this play before but as soon as Franco’s crooning Ginsbergian voice began reading it, I knew I heard it. It is a great poem, at times it is difficult to understand, but poetry wouldn’t be poetry if it was easy to understand.  Howl allows us to get a glimpse into the mindset of the beat generation in the 60s. Howl shows another side that many people wouldn’t be able to view unless it was written down on paper.

So in conclusion, if you want to see a controversial side of this poem, are interested in the ideas behind censorship, or just want to see Franco flexing some of his actorial muscle, then Netflix this movie because it’s on there.


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