Howl by Ginsberg, film and historical context

Howl by Ginsberg, film and historical context

Directors: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman

Writers: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman


Stars: James Franco, Todd Rotondi and Jon Prescott


Fantastic experimental movie, filmed in 2010 by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, where Allen Ginsberg’s most famous poem, Howl, is read by James Franco (performing as Ginsberg), combining Franco’s performance with illustrations and cartoons inspired in old drawings made by the poet. Furthermore, some years of Allen Ginsberg’s life are dramatized (his early life during the 40´s and 50’s).

The film re-enacts Ginsberg’s debut of Howl at the Six Gallery Reading on October 7, 1955 in black-and-white. This event was really important because it was the first public manifestation of the Beat Generation and it helped to presenter the West Coast literary revolution known as the San Francisco Renaissance. This event was juxtaposes with other color images of the obscenity trial, in 1957, of San Francisco poet and of Lawrence Ferlinghetti (City Lights Bookstore co-founder) who was the first publisher of Howl in “Howl and other Poems”.

Origami Ginsberg

Therefore, the film joints historical events with a variety of cinematic techniques and although it was not a big success (modest reviews), it was premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, a festival fond of innovative works.

In Howl, James Franco leaves behind silly roles of a handsome young actor (Spider-man), to start a serious career. His performance in 127 Hours will win nominations for many high-profile awards, including the Academy Awards, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards.

The poem Howl broke down societal barriers. Ginsberg wrote about love affairs, road trips and personal liberation with a new language, far of conventions and he found a new way to express himself which galvanized a generation. Difficult feelings to be performance and difficult moments to be filmed, by the directors know how to create the atmosphere and the rhythm to a peculiar film, a film which everybody should enjoy.

**The Beat Generation was a group of American authors who wrote after World War II and who became to prominence in the 50’s. Important elements of Beat culture were: experimentation with drugs, rejection of their materialistic society, search of new ways of expression and alternative forms of sexuality, and the idealizing of exuberant as well as the Eastern culture and religion. Beat members developed a reputation as new bohemian hedonists who hated conformity and bourgeois rules.

Allen Ginsberg’s Howl (1956), William S. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch (1959) and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957) are among the best known examples of Beat movement. Both Howl and Naked Lunch were the focus of obscenity trials that eventually helped to liberalize people in the United States.

The central figures of the Beat generation (with the exception of William S. Burroughs) ended up together in San Francisco where they met and became friends with figures associated with the San Francisco Renaissance: Kenneth Rexroth, Madeline Gleason, Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer and Robin Blaser..

In the 1960s, elements of the expanding Beat movement were incorporated into the Hippie counterculture and today, the movement is source of inspiration for new authors.

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I am a teacher of Literature and an author of short stories. I like to travel and to speak, to meet new people and to take photos. I am preparing an exhibition of my last travel photos, titled ‘Nights in Africa’. There are 45 photos of 5 countries in the Gulf of Guinea. Years ago, I had a literary magazine ‘The Sound of Wind’ and now, I am happy to collaborate with Yareah magazine.

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