Howl on the big screen

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In the NYT, Stanley Fish writes about the film Howl. Based on the life and most famous work of poet Allen Ginsburg, (which I discussed here) Howl has a multi-layered narrative structure that affords viewers "a chance to hear the same lines and passages twice and even three times:" a result, we experience the effect of deepening understanding that is produced by the classroom teacher who circles and surrounds a poem with information, references and multiple points of view.

Interpretation in still another register is provided by the amazing animation -- part-biographical, part-metaphorical, part-imagistic and largely hallucinogenic -- that seems to flow upward from Ginsberg's mouth as he reads. The phrase "teaching moment" is now overused, but this film earns it and leaves us wanting more, not more of Franco (who is terrific), not more of the plot (which is less than minimal), not more of the trial (you get just enough), but more literary criticism. Mirabile dictu!

AO Scott's review echoes this point, writing that Howl "does something that sounds simple until you consider how rarely it occurs in films of any kind. It takes a familiar, celebrated piece of writing and makes it come alive." However, Scott flags the animation sequences as "sincere, visually adept and nearly disastrous, the one serious misstep in a film that otherwise does nearly everything right." (Eric Drooker's animations from the film are published in Howl: The Graphic Novel, and Drooker's previous book of Ginsberg's Illuminated Poems.) The trailer looks pretty good:

update (10/12):
Greta Christina reviews Howl at Carnal Nation and writes that "I do have to respect Allen Ginsberg:"

I have to respect him for writing candidly about sex, at a time when writing candidly about sex could get you arrested. I have to respect him for being an out gay man in the freaking 1950s. I have to respect him for breaking the ground that I'm casually strolling on today.

Allen Ginsberg lived in a world that was much, much shittier about sex than the world I live in today. And the world I live in today is better, in part, because of him: because of the things he wrote, and the fights he fought, and the life he lived out loud.

A lot of things drifted into my mind when I was watching this film. But the idea that kept drifting into my head, again and again, gently and relentlessly, was this:


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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on October 6, 2010 6:59 PM.

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