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Howl

3.5 out of 5 stars 261 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

In his famously confessional style, Ginsberg a poet, counter-culture icon, and chronicler of the Beat Generation a recounts the road trips, love affairs, and search for personal liberation that led to HOWL, the most timeless work of his career. HOWL interweaves three stories: the unfolding of the landmark 1957 obscenity trial; an imaginative animated ride through the prophetic masterpiece; and a unique portrait of a man who found new ways to express himself, and in doing so, changed his own life and galvanized a generation.

Special Features

James Franco in conversation with directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman - an all new feature length audio commentary
Holy! Holy! Holy! The Making of Howl - featuring directors Epstein and Friedman and stars James Franco, Jon Hamm, David Strathairn, Treat Williams, Bob Balaban, poet Anne Waldman, and others
Directors' research tapes - original interviews with Ginsberg's friends and collaborators Eric Drooker, Peter Orlovsky, Tuli Kupferberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Steven Taylor
Allen Ginsberg reads Howl - never before seen footage from a performance in 1995 at the Knitting Factory in New York
James Franco reads Howl audio feature

Product Details

  • Actors: James Franco, Jon Hamm, Mary-Louise Parker, David Strathairn, Bob Balaban
  • Directors: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English, French
  • Region: All Regions
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    R
    Restricted
  • Studio: Oscilloscope Laboratories / Mongrel Media
  • DVD Release Date: January 4, 2011
  • Run Time: 84 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (261 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0042U9B3G
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,242 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By K. Harris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on October 8, 2010
Format: DVD
How do you bring the written word alive on the screen? "Howl," in depicting the famous Allen Ginsberg poem, does so ingeniously. But the beauty of the poem is interspersed with scenes of a much more conventional nature as well. The film is divided into four specific segments--the 1957 obscenity trial, a famed 1957 interview with Ginsberg (played ably by James Franco), the 1955 public unveiling of the masterwork "Howl," and an animated representation of the work in question. Then there are some flashbacks that accompany the various segments as needed. It is a lot of material for a film that runs less than ninety minutes. It is a credit to "Howl" that it works so well--but I also wonder if more impact might have been made by limiting the focus somewhat. Sometimes less is more. Also, by being so reverent to Ginsberg and the source material (the interview, most noticeably)--ultimately, I felt less emotionally connected to this fascinating character than I'd hoped.

It is actually the animation in "Howl" that stands out the most. On some level, I felt that the filmmakers had this inspired idea of how to present "Howl" (the poem) in a visually compelling style--but then had to come up with other secondary material to round out a feature film. The film comes to life with these sequences. Franco's interpretation as he reads "Howl" can be distracting, however. I know he is channeling Ginsberg, but the awkward cadence of his delivery disrupts the smooth flowing imagery. A small point, though, because I found the animation in "Howl" extraordinary and interesting. As a small film, on its own, I think it would have been a rousing success and brought "Howl" (the poem) to a new generation.

The other segments are nice enough.
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Format: DVD
HOWL is a well-chosen name for this excellent movie. Yes, it indeed is a study of the creator of that significant poem - Allen Ginsberg - but the film seems to be more focused on bringing the audience to a level of appreciation of the impact that particular poem had on the world - of censorship, of bringing to the attention the parameters of varieties of sexuality and emotions, of the so called concept and rise of the Beat Generation - than it is in portraying the life history of the poet himself. Writers/directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman have combined archival footage of the real Allen Ginsberg and moments in the cafés where Howl was read along with very fine animation to relate the grotesque feelings of the poem in a way that enhances our understanding of this important work, and with that they have gathered an exemplary cast of actors to recreate the people that surrounded Ginsberg's life and experience with the courts.

The film begin with the 1957 obscenity trial held for the 1955 creation of the poem Howl: the Judge Clayton Horn (Bob Balaban) hears the prosecutor Ralph McIntosh (David Strathairn) bring testimony from a variety of 'experts' - Gail Potter (Mary-Louise Parker), Professor David Kirk (Jeff Daniels), Luther Nichols (Alessandro Nivola), and Mark Shorer (Treat Williams), and then hears rebuttal from Ginsberg's attorney Jake Ehrlich (Jon Hamm) who is also defending Ginsberg's publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Andrew Rogers). And while the trial proceeds the audience is taken back to the year of the poem's creation with Allen Ginsberg portrayed with exceptionally fine acting by James Franco.
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Format: DVD
"Howl" is the story of the obscenity trial surrounding Lawrence Ferlinghetti publishing Allen Ginsburg's Howl. Told from Ginsberg's perspective it isn't formatted like a usual movie, but more like a poem with different alternating stanzas.

The stanzas breakdown into an interview with Ginsberg circa 1957, an animated rendition of Howl, the trial, the Six Gallery reading that brought the beats and Howl to mass public awareness, Ginsberg writing Howl, and his meeting and falling in love with Peter Orlovsky.

James Franco plays Ginsberg and while not a nuanced or fiery performance you do get the feeling of what it would be like at the time of the obscenity trial to sit down with Ginsberg and talk about Howl, from how it got started to what it meant to him to write it, and the literary merits of it.

The stanzas mesh seamlessly, and intricately. For instance, the animated Howl that is interspersed with the live action works very well on its own but also in the context of the movie. If you're not familiar with the poem it provides a reference point as to what the controversy was in the first place. The trial scenes with Jon Hamm as Ferlinghetti's defense lawyer, and David Strathairn as the prosecutor provide comic relief, especially more so because the dialog was taken right from the trial transcripts. If obscenity trials are good for anything it's getting straitlaced attorneys to say things that in a different context would be considered obscene.

The movie also doesn't avoid or ignore Ginsberg's homosexuality. As a matter of fact, it's an intricate part of the movie since Howl was Ginsberg's first flash of accepting that within himself as being a part of himself, and normal.

All the performances in "Howl" are good.
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