I thought James Franco would be the problem with Howl, the new movie about the Allen Ginsberg poem’s place in the history of obscenity and art.
After all, when you think of Ginsberg, you don’t exactly picture the hottest man on earth, a sort of nouvelle James Dean with moist eyes and pouty lips.
But Franco — who’s mainly playing the young Ginsberg — is absolutely fine and totally committed.
The problem is that the movie is a structural mess with a good heart but an un-made-up mind.
The filmmakers apparently couldn’t decide which way to play it, so they keep veering from scenes that have Franco (as Ginsberg) being interviewed about “Howl,” to Franco reading the poem aloud (with animated asides), to the obscenity trial that ultimately deemed it safe for mankind.
The part I liked the best — the trial — is the one most critics found the weakest and most conventional, but at least it was something to glom onto and it actually showed us something happening rather than just telling us about it.
But as it keeps zigzagging around, the movie threatens to give you a splitting gay headache from all the shifting focuses, and that’s just obscene.
A noble misfire.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 27, 2010