Finally, Howl, which opened the dramatic competition at Sundance, makes a stab at bucking up the civil-rights troops by having James Franco's young Alan Ginsberg read the entirety of his masterwork in 1955 over and through several narrative strands, including Ginsberg insisting on his homosexuality in a gray-flannel world. Most refreshing, Howl offers a scene in which the young poet earnestly responds to a question about his artistic process. Watching Franco's unselfconsciously egotistical Ginsberg explain his breakthrough poem to a freshly scrubbed interviewer in the hazy innocence of 1957 inadvertently holds the mirror up to the snark that has settled over the film-as-culture biz over the last 20 years, particularly at Sundance. It was good enough to make me feel bad that I had turned down Ginsberg when he hit on me in Harvard Square when I was a callow youth of about 20. What was I thinking?
Harlan Jacobson can be reached at Harlan@talkcinema.com.
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