Saturday, January 08, 2011


I saw the movie HOWL the other day and quite enjoyed it.

It is based on the trial of Lawrence Ferlinghetti who was charged with obscenity for publishing Howl and Other Poems (forward by William Carlos Williams) by Allan Ginsberg. While most of the "Beat Generation" poets are long dead, Ferlinghetti is still alive at age 91 and still running the book store. I didn't see many sights when I was in San Francisco in December 1999 for a week on business, but City Lights is one of those I did see.

Anyways, the movie was quite interesting for many reasons - James Franco is a very attractive man, and actually looks more like the young Allan Ginsberg than I expected, but my idea of Ginsberg was from his older days as a balding dude with a ponytail. And Franco is a very interesting person in his own right.

I also generally like trial dramatizations. Trial scenes (unless improperly edited) are always so clean and sharp and yet dramatic they are always intellectually stimulating.

Most interesting though was the recitation of the poem Howl over the course of the movie, intercut with an interview with Ginsberg (Franco) and the trial, which not only was interesting as a trial, but was full-on fascinating for the fact that the prosecution and the defense were wrestling with the issue of what makes a poem a poem, and artistically valid.

And most personally interesting, it is revealed that Howl was primarily inspired by Ginsberg's love for the mostly heterosexual Neal Cassady:

who went out whoring through Colorado in myriad
stolen night-cars, N.C., secret hero of these
poems, cocksman and Adonis of Denver-joy
to the memory of his innumerable lays of girls
in empty lots & diner backyards, moviehouses'
rickety rows, on mountaintops in caves or with
gaunt waitresses in familiar roadside lonely pet-
ticoat upliftings & especially secret gas-station
solipsisms of johns, & hometown alleys too,

The movie portrays Ginsberg saying the name Neal Cassady, rather than just "N.C". And please note the use of the word "cocksman" which I recently said I hated - although Ginsberg used it in 1955, not in 2010 like John Lahr.

Not that I didn't already realize that many a poem has been inspired by unrequited love, but it's good to be reminded - and I hope my frequent actor-visitors, my fanemies as I like to call them, are taking note. They all, suburbanites of the souls every one of them, think I'm some kind of evil freak of nature for writing poetry for someone who did not return my feelings. The absurdity of this attitude, especially for people who fancy themselves creative types, escapes them utterly: if the worst thing that I or they or any human being ever did was write poetry about somebody who did not like them, I, or they, or any human being would be a fucking saint.

Back to the movie - I was pleased to see that one of the movie's co-authors was Rob Epstein, co-author of another great movie about a San Francisco-based homosexual, The Times of Harvey Milk, which is available for free online via Hulu - if you haven't seen that by all means watch - it is a great documentary.

Fun fact: James Franco also appears in the recent movie "Milk" as Harvey Milk's boyfriend.

The entire poem Howl can be read on the movie's web site here.

I think I'll go watch The Times of Harvey Milk again.