Howl looks at the life and works of Allen Ginsberg (James Franco), a 20th Century American poet. The film looks at his early life and also shows his debut and well received performance of Howl at the Six Gallery Reading on October 7, 1955. Throughout the film, parts of the poem are demonstrated though animation.
Two years after Ginsberg’s reading of Howl, San Francisco poet and City Lights Bookstore co-founder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Andrew Rogers) who was the first person to publish “Howl” in “Howl and Other Poems” was on trial facing prosecutor Ralph McIntosh (David Strathairn) and Judge Clayton Horn (Bob Balaban) having been accused of obscenity. Ferlinghetti was defended by Jake Ehrilich (Jon Hamm). The judge eventually decided in Ferlignhetti’s favour saying the poem was of “redeeming social importance”.
Howl’s verses describe illicit sex and drugs and a mingling of races. It is primarily about freedom of expression and a celebration of homosexual love and lust, which was too much for the conservative times in which it was published.
Also depicted in the film is Ginsberg’s mother’s illness and death, his friendship with Neal Cassady (Jon Prescott) and his struggle with homosexuality before he accepts it and falls in love with Peter Orlovsky (Aaron Tveit).
“Intelligent and highly respectful of its central character and his titular landmark poem, HOWL is an admirable if fundamentally academic exploration of the origins, impact, meaning and legacy of Allen Ginsberg’s signal work.”
— Todd McCarthy, Variety
“This film is a wonderful act of imagination on its own.”
— Richard Nilsen, Arizona Central
“By the time this movie’s over, you’ve spent an hour and a half just working your way through the words of Howl and some related source material, and that turns out to be a surprisingly satisfying thing to do.”
— Dana Stevens, Slate
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