Friday, October 22, 2010

Words Of A Wild Poet

Want to see a film about a poet and his poetry? Not jumping and down with excitement yet? Thus was the challenge facing Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman when they wrote and directed "Howl," which explores Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsburg (pictured near left) and the fallout in the 1950s from his edgy, epic poem, also called 'Howl.' I saw the film last night (Friday I mean - yes, I'm retro-posting), and it is compelling. How did they do it? First, by casting the brilliant, protean James Franco (pictured far left) in the title role, an actor who so thoroughly melts into his characters that I'm not sure what he looks like in real life. Second, by using vivid, imaginative animation as a visual counterpoint to the poetry recitals. Third, by weaving together an interview with Ginsburg with the obscenity trial of Howl's publish, flashback images of Ginsburg's early life, and the live poetry reading/animation sequences.

This non-linear, contrastive approach is surprisingly good storytelling, and hearing parts of the poems several times - live, paraphrased at the trial, set against animation, mentioned in the interview - allows you to contemplate the meaning without compromising the storytelling and discovery.

This is very, very well-done. Franco's cast-mates are deftly chosen, notably Mad Men star Jon Hamm as defense attorney Jake Ehrlich (who inspired Perry Mason!), Bob Balaban as a thoughtful judge, the awesome David Strathairn in the unsympathetic district attorney role, Mary-Louise Parker and Jeff Daniels as the state's rather unctuous and sanctimonious 'cultural experts.'

The men in Ginsburg's life (he was gay) are also well-casted, but mostly act in flashbacks, where they act with body language and voice-overs from correspondence or memoirs. They Aaron Tveit (the original teen boy in 'Next to Normal') as his life partner Peter Orlovsky (the real Orlovsky is pictured left with Ginsburg a la 'John and Yoko) and Todd Rotondi as Jack Kerouac, on whom Ginsburg had an unrequited crush.

Check out the trailer, which gives you a good feel of the film it promises..

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