BERLIN "Howl", a movie about groundbreaking Beat poet Allen
Ginsberg in competition Friday at the Berlin Film Festival, drew warm
applause for bringing the written word and the counterculture vividly to life.
The picture stars James Franco ("Milk", "Spider-Man") giving an
uncanny performance as the charming, bookish gay bard who electrified
audiences in the smoky cafes and bars of San Francisco in the 1950s.
The frank depictions of sex and unflinching depiction of what he
called the "void" in modern American society in his most famous poem
"Howl" enraptured the budding beatnik movement but shocked
The poem's publisher was put on trial for obscenity in 1957 in one of
the gripping set pieces of the film.
"Howl", directed by Robert Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, plays out
part as courtroom drama tracing the trial and part as a
neo-psychedelic animation visualising Ginsberg's immortal lines.
Epstein, who won an Oscar for the 1984 documentary "The Times of
Harvey Milk" about the slain gay rights activist, said it had been a
challenge to make an engaging film about what were essentially just
words on a page.
"Allen Ginsberg's longtime secretary called out of the blue one day
and asked if we'd be interested in doing a project about the poem and
we said 'hell yes'," he told reporters.
"Then we thought, 'How do you make a film about the poem? How do you
crack that nut?'"
Friedman said that Ginsberg, who died in 1997, had been more than a
literary hero but was also an inspiration for a generation of gays
afraid to come out of the closet, which was also a gold mine of material.
"It became about politics and sexual expression and liberation," he
said of the Ginsberg's writing, in which also explored his unrequited
love for fellow Beat writers Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady --
feelings tragically recounted in the film.
"It became about his relationships and just witnessing how that
richness was brought into the work was inspiring."
Franco missed the press conference because his flight from New York
was delayed by snow but he was expected at the gala premiere later Friday.
"Howl" is one of 20 films from around the world in the running for
the Berlinale's top prizes, to be awarded February 20. The festival
wraps up the next day.