Sep 26, 2008
Next year, a star-studded cast--James Franco, Alan Alda, Jeff
Daniels, Mary-Louise Parker and Paul Rudd--will dramatize the
literary life and times of Allen Ginsberg in the biopic, Howl.
After a summer dominated by superhero blockbusters, it seems somewhat
quixotic to make movie heroes out of poets and literary critics. The
film also faces the daunting task of getting the Internet generation
excited about a 50-year-old poem.
Intrigued, GalleyCat caught up with Howl's co-director Jeffrey
Friedman. In this exclusive interview, the veteran director of the
documentary Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt wasn't worried:
"We've been surprised by the number of young people who have told us
not only that they are familiar with the poem, but that it means a
lot to them. A generation accustomed to being bombarded with random
sensational imagery will be able to easily keep up with our animated
reinterpretation of the poem--a dreamlike world of madness and
monsters, burning oilfields and cosmic orgasms."
When asked how censorship affected contemporary publishers, Friedman
had a passionate response:
"In the 21st century's environment of 'free speech' and internet
blogging, many may think that the issue of censorship has become a
thing of the past. However, as our ability to opine and criticize has
become easier, government censorship is as bad as it's been in my
memory. We sit in the quagmire of a ghastly misbegotten war, as an
imploding military-industrial complex drags our country further into
"The current administration has nullified the Geneva Conventions,
sanctioned kidnapping and torture, and continues to hold an unknown
number of people in secret prisons without due process. Conservative
right-wing elements co-opt religion just as the specter of terrorism
has co-opted patriotism. We live with apocalyptic environmental
dangers carrying the same weight as 1950s atomic bomb anxiety. And
the same censorship issues that Ginsberg's work faced in the 1950s
are still very much alive.
"In an effort to conjure morale and keep private its clandestine
operations, our government has tried to intimidate and marginalize
its critics--and of course this includes the publishing and
journalism industry. Fortunately, First Amendment freedom of speech
is still respected in principle, but given the opportunity--a
declared 'national emergency,' for example--I have no doubt the
Bush-Cheney administration would jump at the chance to exert greater
control over our speech--and implicitly our thoughts."