For those of you hoping to see the daring, honest, brutal, sexy, filthy and scandalous on film, choose something else as you will certainly not find it in Howl, tonight, at the Curzon Soho.
Howl is rubbish. But let’s take a closer look. This film is made of scenes of Ginsberg reading Howl, scenes from the obscenity trial, an interview with Ginsberg, and HORRIBLE animation. Aside from the horrible animation, the ingredients for a decent film are there. But at a certain point film makers need to stop and think about how they're doing what they’re doing, who will end up watching it and whether it will work or not. Here it just looks like this wasn't done. Putting together all the ingredients is not enough, you must have some kind of vision, an instinct, something that will make it all gel together - and it should involve the ability to hire a better casting director.
Turning Howl, poem poet and crowd, into a film didn’t work - let's see why.
First of all, this is like being at school, the poem is paraphrased either visually, via horrid animation of people shooting up or mating (heterosexually), or through endless repetition, or – final straw really – through dialogues, literally explaining, in the trial scene, what the words might or might not mean. Surely to find out about Howl, one would have rather read the poem itself, or the relative wikipedia entry.
Second: there are times in which films set to tell stories we already know the end to, like the obscenity trial in this case, but these films generally manage to create some sort of tension, work their magic so even if we know the outcome, we might either put it out of our minds or wish to see how we got there anyway. Not here, this is not a film about the trial, nobody gives a crap about it. This is a film where the trial is thrown in for good measure, no tension is built around it and nothing justifies it even being there. Oh, and did we have to cast Don Draper as Don Draper? Doesn’t the fellow want to try something else for chrissake?
Third and final, third and main: excitement, or the total lack of. If you go and see Howl you are either a Don Draper/Franco fan, or know Howl. If the former, you are dismissed. If the latter, you are expecting at the very least cock and balls, insatiable ecstasy, or both. As on screen Franco fails (was he even trying) to look less like the badly cast unremarkable hotshot he is, and more like Ginsberg reading Howl to an enraptured, galvanised, and adoring crowd, people in the auditorium start to leave or fall asleep.
This might have been acceptable or even a source of pride for, say, Antonioni or Pasolini, Bergman or Haneke, at times, knowing that this or that film they made was not designed to be immediately accessible to all, but just to an élite; but here?? That such a blood pumping, all shaking, whirlwind of a poem (and of a poet) [and of an era] should be translated so tamely into film that people fell asleep is in itself a certain failure.
All this film needs now is a subtitle, a caption:
‘Howl, by Disney'
‘Howl, was it in fact censored? I can’t remember’.
‘Yawn..’ sorry I meant ‘Howl, soon on a plane near you - for those who fear flying and would rather be asleep’