Saturday, 18 October 2014

Epstein and Friedman's Howl (2010)

'Just to be clear', I'm talking about the film, not the poetry.

Was it film-like enough for me? Probably not. It seemed too close to biographical documentary (these are the things that happened, in this order). I felt like I was learning things, not feeling things. Part of this lack of 'depth' comes in the court scenes - there's no jeopardy or tension. It's not just that it's based on real life and you already know he got off the charges, it's the fact that you don't get a sense that losing the court case is that big a deal. Its other main problem is that Ginsberg doesn't even appear in the courtroom (I thought he appeared as a witness in real life, but I guess not...), and the problem there is that he is the 'main character' in the film, so to not have him there while the main plot pivot goes on, i.e. whether Ferlinghetti as publisher is indicted under the American obscenity law, means, as the audience, that it's hard to care.

The animations seem very crucial too, because the film has relied so heavily on having James Franco, as Ginsberg, read out poems. I guess, in typical modern patronising style, the makers thought 'the audience will find a poet performing too boring - let's ramp up the visual excitement with a cartoon'. That's not the way it should be, it's gratuitous and, for me, seems desperate. There's another reason I'm not sure about these 'poetic visualisations', and that's because people should have their own images conjured up in their personal heads when they read/are read the poem. To provide them with the particular film artists' version of Ginsberg's words could have a limiting effect on the imagination and potentially the reception of the poem in general. If we have to have something other than James Franco reading on screen (and why not, he's a handsome guy ain't he?) I'd've preferred some Scorsese-style shots of Manhattan buildings etc, just so you get a sense of the environment Ginsberg wrote about, but again this may be distracting, I don't know... Maybe just display the words "Close your eyes while the poem is being read," let the viewers do the rest.

I found the interview stuff interesting, sure. There were some bits of poetics that I found interesting, but this just leads right back to the 'documentariness' or, at least, non-filmicness of Howl. It struck me as stilted clip, followed by clip, followed by clip. No smooth 'story', just talking and cartoons. I don't really know what the answer would be to make a better film. Make it more about Ferlinghetti maybe? Or make it about Ginsberg around that time, but not concentrating so much on the trial... I wouldn't recommend it very highly, but if you're like me and know about Ginsberg's poetry, your curiosity might overwhelm you, and what's wrong with that?

Any of you guys 'n' gals seen it? What did you make of it?

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