This experimental film takes Allen Ginsberg’s iconic beat poem “Howl” and uses it as a framework to tell the story of the creation and performance of the poem, as well as it’s 1957 obscenity trial.
Howl unfolds in a non-linear style that combines B&W and color palettes with various styles (faux documentary, courtroom drama, avante garde animation) to create a form of poetry itself. In many ways, this story could only be told this way, and you’d probably have to have an appreciation for beat literature and artistic non-conformity. Also, like the poem itself, the movie has some unflinching (and disturbing) sexual imagery.
Franco disappears into the role of Ginsberg and leads a solid cast of character heavyweights. Strathairn and Hamm are perfectly cast as opposing attorneys in the landmark case. The trial sequences might seem like they come from an entirely different film but watching grown men debate the merits of individual words and phrases for their artistic relevance and/or offensiveness is completely absurd.
And yet, we know from history that this happened. (Oscilloscope)
— DENNIS WILLIS