Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” inspired and awakened a generation. Its talk of angel-headed hipsters, jazz, lonesomeness and a thousand other things struck a chord with America.
It’s been over 50 years since the poem’s creation, and the world’s love-hate relationship with it is far from over. “Howl,” the movie, starring James Franco as Allen Ginsberg, was released in September of 2010. The UWF Department of English and Foreign Languages and Open Books Prison Book Project will be co-sponsoring a free screening of the film at Artel Gallery.
“The poem, in general, had a really profound effect on society,” said Ryan Galliford of Open Books. “The trials and tribulations surrounding the poem are still pretty important. ‘Howl’ addresses a lot of issues that are still unresolved.”
The film is nonlinear and highlights the early life of Ginsberg: when he was living in California, prior to writing “Howl,” the first reading of “Howl” at Six Gallery Reading, and interviews conducted during the 1957 obscenity trial surrounding the publication of the poem. Several animated scenes accompany the reading of “Howl” and attempt to illustrate it literally.
There are also several friends and writers, such as Jack Kerouac, played by Todd Rotondi, who appear in the film and highlight moments of the Beat Generation that came to be characterized by Ginsberg’s infamous poem.
Although the poem was ultimately ruled to be “not obscene,” and protected by the First Amendment, much controversy still surrounds it. In 2007, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the original publisher of the poem, petitioned to have “Howl” read on the radio to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the poem being ruled as “not obscene.” After much deliberation, the station decided not to broadcast the poem and made a webcast of a reading of it instead.
“I think we’ve become a little more accepting,” Galliford said. “But I think that if something were written on the same scale as ‘Howl’ in comparison today, I think it would still be met with similar opposition.”
One flick of a knob on the radio and you can hear things just as obscene as some of the topics touched upon in “Howl.” While it seems society is becoming more and more lax with what it deems acceptable for public ears, freedom of speech battles still occur and the film serves as a reminder that although we’ve taken great strides to preserve our rights, much is left to be done.
“‘Howl’ is an exemplary work of literary criticism on film, explaining and contextualizing its sources without deadening it,” explained A. O. Scott of The New York Times.
Regardless of whether or not one agrees or disagrees with the poem and its intentions or connotations of obscenity, the film does a good job of providing criticism from both sides, as well as Ginsberg’s explanation of the poem. Every event and interview is treated as a historical event and portrayed with as little sensationalism as possible.
In addition to the free film screening at Artel Gallery, there will also be door prizes and raffles. After the film, a guest speaker from the UWF English Department will lead a discussion on Allen Ginsberg and the impact of his poetry on American culture.
It’s been over 50 years since a work of poetry has so greatly influenced America and the question of whether or not another work will come again is becoming a scary one to ask. An easier question then, is when?
“HOWL” FILM SCREENING
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 15
WHERE: Artel Gallery, 223 Palafox Place