Howl (2010) – Review

Due to what was believed at the time to contain extreme content and subjective use of language, Alan Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” is part of obscenity trial in which the accusers hope it banned and deemed not literary. Throughout the course of the film, Alan Ginsberg (James Franco) discusses his life and while he reads aloud the contents of “Howl”, the poem itself is brought to life and illustrated through sophisticated animation.

The film moves between both Ginsberg in his apartment—talking to an unknown interviewer—, reading aloud at poetry clubs, and the courtroom where testimonies of the poems legitimacy, merit, and contents are raised.

Ultimately, Howl is about a young artist seeking a voice and the censorship of his work in a time period when the public expression of oneself had an invisible line drawn before it.




Upon hearing Franco’s aloud rendition of Ginsberg’s “Howl”, it is something believed to be that of an acquired taste. It soon is made evident however, once the taste is met, of the power in his voice and the life it breathes into each word, comma, and period, Ginsberg wrote. As a whole, his performance is spot on and it is only his reading voice that starts questionably though it soon grows more gripping as the film progresses.

Much like Franco’s temperament, the animation is too of an acquired taste. Only it seems to never quite transcend from appearance and instead remains attached to the superficial.While the animation itself is smooth and imaginative it fails to deliver emotionally.

The courtroom scenes throughout, create an uneven balance between the poem and the cases for and against it. It is a balance that needs the weight of another, missing, component to meet equilibrium and in turn be the powerful, capable, courtroom drama of its intentions.

That said, Howl‘s greatest flaw is in its lack of inclusion to those outside the courtroom and Ginsberg’s life. The film presents no scenes of outside, public, opinions on Ginsberg’s work or its effect on society that were so throughout raised in the courtroom.

The performances are there and so is a unique impressive style shown by way of cinematography and animation, but in the end Howl is a film that its viewer will either take to or not, depending on patience and interests. It is worth seeing if Ginsberg and his poetry interest you, but if you’ve no affair with him than skip this one; unless of course you’re a fan of the young, talented James Franco.



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