Monday, November 15, 2010

Movies: Howl

I have the greatest respect for the intention and ensuing construction of this film: the elucidation of Ginsberg's poem Howl through biography and history, but multiple complaints about its execution.

My foremost accusation is against the animators, a Thai outfit led by Eric Drooker, in a style is too techno-age to suit Ginsberg's time and tone, which nevertheless comes off as dated. This is animation that might have been considered super-edgy in 1995, but would never have been considered—at least by me—as appealing. Nor is it unappealing in the way some of Ginsberg's lines call for: "yacketayakking screaming vomiting whispering facts and memories and anecdotes and eyeball kicks and shocks of hospitals and jails and wars;" it's not rich enough to demonstrate half of that.

The animated sequences accompany Franco's reading of pieces of the poem (not in entirety, and not straight through, but in jumbled sequences, which I don't mind). His reading is a bit over-studied at times; there is something distinctly schoolboyish in Franco's voice as he reads or recites. But his physical performance as young Ginsberg is more natural, less hiccuping—or maybe still hiccuping, but in a way that jives with young Ginsberg's own uncertainty.

Much of Howl reminds me of Milk—is it just that we again have Franco, in hippy-hipster San Francisco, sorting out being gay? Both films use the dictated monologue-incited flashback structure (which I lamented in Milk), and so it was little surprise to see, when the credits rolled, that Gus Van Sant (Milk's director) served as Producer here. It's hard for me to squelch the gossipy girl in me who wonders if Van Sant has a gay crush on Franco (who is supposedly not gay, but. . . really?), if not more.

I loved Howl from my first reading (in a Catholic high school English class—that's how far we have come from the 1957 obscenity trial), but despite this film's many frustrations, it nevertheless deepened my affection for the work, explaining to me just who Carl is, and what Rockland was, and why that matters. It could have been so much better, but the movie is still good.

No comments: