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Howl
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Howl (2010) More at IMDbPro »

Photos (See all 7 | slideshow) Videos (see all 4)
Howl -- A drama centered on the obscenity trial Allen Ginsberg (Franco) faced after the publication of his poem, Howl.
Howl -- Gail Potter (Mary-Louise Parker) indicates why the poem "Howl" has no artistic merit in this exclusive clip.

Overview

User Rating:
6.8/10   9,118 votes »
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Down 10% in popularity this week. See why on IMDbPro.
Writers:
Rob Epstein (written for the screen by) &
Jeffrey Friedman (written for the screen by)
Contact:
View company contact information for Howl on IMDbPro.
Release Date:
27 August 2010 (Italy) See more »
Genre:
Tagline:
The Obscenity Trial That Started a Revolution. The Poem That Rocked a Generation.
Plot:
As Allen Ginsberg talks about his life and art, his most famous poem is illustrated in animation while the obscenity trial of the work is dramatized. Full summary » | Add synopsis »
Plot Keywords:
Awards:
2 wins & 7 nominations See more »
NewsDesk:
(790 articles)
Sundance premieres and docs 2015: Hi, James Franco!
 (From EW.com - Inside Movies. 8 December 2014, 1:00 PM, PST)

Camerimage unveils competition line-up, juries
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Roland Joffe to preside over Camerimage jury
 (From ScreenDaily. 31 October 2014, 2:49 AM, PDT)

User Reviews:
The Beat goes on See more (47 total) »

Cast

  (in credits order)

James Franco ... Allen Ginsberg
Todd Rotondi ... Jack Kerouac

Jon Prescott ... Neal Cassady

Aaron Tveit ... Peter Orlovsky

David Strathairn ... Ralph McIntosh

Jon Hamm ... Jake Ehrlich

Andrew Rogers ... Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Bob Balaban ... Judge Clayton Horn

Mary-Louise Parker ... Gail Potter
Heather Klar ... Jack's Girlfriend
Kaydence Frank ... Allen's Girlfriend (as Kadance Frank)

Treat Williams ... Mark Schorer

Joe Toronto ... Sailor

Johary Ramos ... Hustler
Nancy Spence ... Neal's Girlfriend

Alessandro Nivola ... Luther Nichols

Jeff Daniels ... David Kirk

Allen Ginsberg ... Himself (archive footage)

Paige Allen ... Six Gallery Audience Member

Nikki Borges ... Six Gallery Audience Member
Erika Boseski ... Six Gallery Audience Member (as Erica Boseski)
Deborah Bowman ... Six Gallery Audience Member

Olmo Cefa ... Six Gallery Audience Member
Margo Curry ... Six Gallery Audience Member

Alex Emanuel ... Six Gallery Audience Member

Cecilia Foss ... Beatnik Poet
Michael Gough ... Six Gallery Audience Member
Diane Hess ... Six Gallery Audience Member
Anna Kuchma ... Six Gallery Audience Member

Paul Jude Letersky ... Six Gallery Audience Member (as Paul Letersky)
Carl Low ... Six Gallery Audience Member
Matthew Martin ... Six Gallery Audience Member

Desiree Matthews ... Six Gallery Audience Member

Galway McCullough ... Six Gallery Audience Member
Deric McNish ... Six Gallery Audience Member
Phil Newsom ... Six Gallery Audience Member
Marissa Pepple ... Six Gallery Audience Member
Kimberly Prentice ... Six Gallery Audience Member

Allyson Reilly ... Six Gallery Audience Member

Sean Patrick Reilly ... Six Gallery Audience Member (as Sean Reilly)
Charles Rubey ... Six Gallery Audience Member

Stephanie Schmiderer ... Six Gallery Audience Member
Chad Scott ... Six Gallery Audience Member

Troy Skeeters ... Six Gallery Audience Member
Matthew Staley ... Six Gallery Audience Member

Rafe Terrizzi ... Six Gallery Audience Member

Rob Tode ... Six Gallery Audience Member
Lisa Whitt ... Six Gallery Audience Member
Jeremiah Alexander ... Courtroom

Maria-Elaina Antoniou ... Courtroom
Katherine Boyle ... Courtroom
Peter Bush ... Courtroom

Barbara Danicka ... Courtroom

John Farrer ... Courtroom

William Fowle ... Courtroom
Andrew Goldfarb ... Courtroom
Jeannette Gould ... Courtroom
Eddie Earl Hatch ... Courtroom
Dennis Hearn ... Courtroom
Bill Hunter ... Courtroom
John Jett ... Courtroom

Martin Kalwill ... Courtroom
Ron Keith ... Courtroom
Caitlin McColl ... Courtroom
Helen Merber ... Courtroom
Cyril Merle ... Courtroom
Antoinia Molina ... Courtroom
Kat Scicluna ... Courtroom (as Kat Murello)

J. T. O'Connor ... Courtroom
Jon Prevatt ... Courtroom
Denna Reilly ... Courtroom
Natali Reton ... Courtroom
Moss Roberts ... Courtroom
Harriet Rosenthal ... Courtroom
Ina Rosenthal ... Courtroom
Stacey Scotte ... Courtroom (as Stacy Scotte)
Ali Sharaf ... Courtroom
Patrick Ellison Shea ... Courtroom

Barbara Sigel ... Courtroom

Marc Ian Sklar ... Courtroom (as Marc Sklar)
Joanna Spano ... Courtroom
Cathy Spears ... Courtroom
Joseph Starbin ... Courtroom (as Craig Starbin)
Craig Thompson ... Courtroom
Bernice Toland ... Courtroom
Dianne Zaremba ... Courtroom

Rose Zingale ... Courtroom
rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Jeffrey Feingold ... Beatnik Poet (uncredited)

Directed by
Rob Epstein 
Jeffrey Friedman 
 
Writing credits
Rob Epstein (written for the screen by) &
Jeffrey Friedman (written for the screen by)

Produced by
Lynn Appelle .... line producer
Ken Bailey .... associate producer
Brian Benson .... co-producer
James Chan .... associate producer (as James Q. Chan)
Rob Epstein .... producer
Jeffrey Friedman .... producer
Kelly Gilpatrick .... associate producer
Peter Hale .... associate producer
John Hays .... animation producer
Jawal Nga .... executive producer
Andrew Peterson .... co-producer
Elizabeth Redleaf .... producer
Bob Rosenthal .... associate producer
Mark Steele .... co-producer
Gus Van Sant .... executive producer
Christine K. Walker .... producer (as Christine Kunewa Walker)
 
Original Music by
Carter Burwell 
 
Cinematography by
Edward Lachman (director of photography)
 
Film Editing by
Jake Pushinsky 
 
Casting by
Tiffany Little Canfield 
Bernard Telsey  (as Bernie Telsey)
David Vaccari 
 
Production Design by
Thérèse DePrez 
 
Art Direction by
Russell Barnes 
 
Set Decoration by
Robert Covelman 
 
Costume Design by
Kurt and Bart 
 
Makeup Department
Lazaro Arencibia .... additional hair stylist
Colleen Callaghan .... key hair stylist
Persefone Karakosta .... makeup department head
Sarit Klein .... key makeup artist
Carmen Rivera .... additional hair stylist
James Sarzotti .... assistant makeup artist
Joseph Whitmeyer .... key hair stylist
Robin Day .... hair stylist (uncredited)
Amanda Miller .... wig maker (uncredited)
Vanessa Heshima Sims .... background hair artist (uncredited)
Joelle Troisi .... prosthetic appliance designer: James Franco (uncredited)
 
Production Management
Lynn Appelle .... unit production manager
Devorah DeVries .... production supervisor
 
Second Unit Director or Assistant Director
Thomas Fatone .... first assistant director (as Tom Fatone)
Kim Thompson .... second second assistant director (as Kimberly Anne Thompson)
Nick Vanderpool .... second assistant director (as Nick E. Vanderpool)
 
Art Department
Jeff Butcher .... property master
Gene DePrez .... paintings: Allen's apartment
Damion Dixon .... art department production assistant
Paul G. Fero .... paintings: Six Gallery
Fitzgerald Francois .... dresser (as Fritzgerald Francois)
Hunter Harris .... art intern
Paul James Hecker .... charge/camera scenic artist
Blackwell Hird .... art intern
Shane Ingersoll .... prop production assistant
Willie Leon .... art intern
Frazer Newton .... set dresser
Bob Provenzano .... leadman (as Bobby Provenzano)
Stephanie Shannon .... art department assistant
Derrick Kardos .... graphic designer (uncredited)
 
Sound Department
James Austin .... sound engineering
Chris Barron .... adr recordist (as Christopher Barron)
Gioia Birkett-Foa .... boom operator
David Curtin .... sound: epk
Thom 'Coach' Ehle .... sound consultant: Dolby
Sean England .... foley recordist
Doug Ford .... sound engineering
Lora Hirschberg .... sound re-recording mixer
Lora Hirschberg .... supervising sound editor
Scott R. Lewis .... sound recordist
Zach Martin .... mix technician
Jan McLaughlin .... sound mixer
Tom Myers .... sound designer
Betsy Nagler .... sound: epk
Brandon Proctor .... sound effects editor
Frank Rinella .... adr mixer
Frank Rinella .... foley mixer
Phil Rosati .... second boom operator (as Philip Rosati)
Phil Rosati .... sound utility (as Philip Rosati)
Dennie Thorpe .... foley artist
Alexej Ashkenazy .... dialogue recordist (uncredited)
Steve Giammaria .... voiceover recordist (uncredited)
 
Visual Effects by
Mark Christiansen .... visual effects
Aron Kantor .... motion graphics
 
Camera and Electrical Department
Tony Arnaud .... company grip
Divine Cox .... best boy grip
Lamont Crawford .... dolly grip
Jon Deblau .... gaffer
Walter Dominicis .... rigging electrician (as Walter Dominics)
Casey Ford .... electrician
Richie Ford .... key rigging electrician
Richard Gioia .... first assistant camera (as Rick Gioia)
Yahel Herzog .... camera operator: "epk
Max Kalmanowicz .... rigging electrician
Glenn Kaplan .... first assistant camera: "b" camera (as Glen Kaplan)
Ed Koza .... grip
Jordan Levie .... loader
Dave McCalister .... key rigging grip
James McMillan .... key grip (as Jim McMillan)
Mary Neary .... additional loader
Dan O'Reilly-Rowe .... cameraman: subway footage
Christopher Patak .... second assistant camera (as Chris Patak)
Charlie Price .... rigging grip
Rob Riccobono .... rigging electrician (as Robert Riccobono)
Richard Rutkowski .... camera operator: "b" camera
Gerard Sava .... camera operator
Lance Shepherd .... best boy electric (as Lance A. Shepherd)
Joshua Solson .... generator operator (as Joshua A. Solson)
Christopher Studley .... electrician
Thomas Vaughun .... rigging grip
JoJo Whilden .... still photographer
 
Animation Department
Jude Adamson .... animation cg artist: The Monk Studios
Angel Aguirregomozcorta .... 2d animator: The Monk Studios
Siriphon Anuntasomboon .... animation production coordinator: The Monk Studios
Nat Anuntkosol .... animation lighting lead: The Monk Studios
Patipat Asavasena .... animation art department: The Monk Studios
Kevin Bailey .... animation editor (as Kevin N. Bailey)
Michael Baker .... animation production manager
Ed Bell .... animation character designer
Nattavut Boonchu .... animation modeller: The Monk Studios
Allison P. Brown .... animation production manager
Preechga Bundrikwong .... animation pipeline technology: The Monk Studios
Tanoo Choorat .... animation modeller: The Monk Studios
Thawarchai Chunhachai .... animation layout artist: The Monk Studios
Pakorn Chutinimitkul .... animation system and information technology: The Monk Studios
Gordon Clark .... additional animation storyboard artist
Lee Croudy .... animation layout supervisor: The Monk Studios
Eric Drooker .... animation designer
Eric Drooker .... animation storyboard artist
Eric Drooker .... lead animation character designer
John Hays .... animation storyboard artist
John Hays .... head of animation
Thomas-Bo Huusmann .... 2d animator: The Monk Studios
Michael Jantze .... additional animation storyboard artist
Chet Jeamkitrung .... 3d animator: The Monk Studios
Chawalit Kaewmanee .... animation layout artist: The Monk Studios
Attaporn Kanjanasahas .... animation rigger: The Monk Studios
Sirikorn Karunyalert .... animation system and information technology: The Monk Studios
Todsapon Kiwsuwannasuk .... animation system and information technology: The Monk Studios
Paniti Kliengsa-Ard .... animation modeller: The Monk Studios
Sriprachum Kongwisawamit .... animation cg artist: The Monk Studios
Asawin Konplean .... 3d animator: The Monk Studios
Rapipol Koomsup .... 3d animator: The Monk Studios
Erika Kopman .... animation digital production assistant
Chris Lanier .... additional animation storyboard artist
Wanida Lertwech .... animation cg artist: The Monk Studios
Sakaret Limsithong .... 3d animator: The Monk Studios
Taarat Luang-On .... animation pipeline technology: The Monk Studios
Gagan Mehta .... animation cg artist: The Monk Studios
Katha Na Badalung .... animation cg artist: The Monk Studios
Benjamin Nielsen .... 2d animator: The Monk Studios
Amnart Nilbutr .... animation modeller: The Monk Studios
Chakrit Nonkome .... animation art department: The Monk Studios
Teerawat Pho-Ob .... animation modeller: The Monk Studios
Wanichaya Phraejunya .... animation art department: The Monk Studios
Rujira Poksomboonkij .... animation production coordinator: The Monk Studios
Tod Polson .... animation art director
Tod Polson .... animation production supervisor: Th Monk Studios
Pittaya Prom-In .... animation cg artist: The Monk Studios
Thanittha Prompatima .... animation model supervisor: The Monk Studios
Thunyawat Punya-Ngarm .... animation supervisor: The Monk Studios
Aimsinthu Ramasoot .... animation production coordinator: The Monk Studios
Poul Riishede .... animation cg artist: The Monk Studios
Tom Rubalcava .... additional animation storyboard artist
Sasapitt Rujirat .... animation layout supervisor: The Monk Studios
Jan Rybka .... 2d animator: The Monk Studios
Thanasan Sakulsansern .... animation 3d texture artist: The Monk Studios
Anusart Sapcharoenchai .... animation layout artist: The Monk Studios
Sanpech Satrawaha .... animation pipeline technology: The Monk Studios
Ingo Schachner .... 3d animator: The Monk Studios
Rewat Sikemngam .... animation 3d texture artist: The Monk Studios (as Rawat Sikhemngam)
Salvador Simo Busom .... animation cg supervisor: The Monk Studios (as Salvador Simo)
Narongchai Singhapan .... animation art department: The Monk Studios
Valentino 'Achiu' So .... animation character designer
Henrik Soenniksen .... 2d animator: The Monk Studios
Suponwich Juck Somsaman .... animation executive producer: The Monk Studios (as Juck Somsaman)
Valthip Srinaka .... animation producer: The Monk Studios
Pitchaporn Sumanon .... animation system and information technology: The Monk Studios
Montien Supalak .... animation editor: The Monk Studios
Jarturont Supiyaphun .... animation system and information technology: The Monk Studios
Worapat Surachai .... animation modeller: The Monk Studios
Sahasin Tangkijjavisuth .... animation rigger: The Monk Studios
Chatchawan Thainpratoom .... animation editor: The Monk Studios
Somchai Tongyod .... animation rigger: The Monk Studios
Mike Toumey .... additional animatic editor
Nuttajorn Trivittayakorn .... animation lighting lead: The Monk Studios
Sirid Garff Vejrum .... anination art department: The Monk Studios
Dejvisidh Vongshinsri .... animation art department: The Monk Studios
Chutinart Warunyuwong .... 3d animator: The Monk Studios
Anurak Wasaendee .... animation modeller: The Monk Studios
Wittaya Wattanapaisit .... animation cg artist: The Monk Studios
Chalermphol Wattanawongtrakool .... animation layout artist: The Monk Studios
Stan Webb .... animation editor
Anucha Wongkarnkah .... animation cg artist: The Monk Studios
 
Casting Department
Richard Burridge .... extras casting associate
Bess Fifer .... casting associate
Patrick Goodwin .... casting assistant
Carrie Rossen .... casting associate
Grant Wilfley .... extras casting
Holly Dorff .... adr voice casting (uncredited)
 
Costume and Wardrobe Department
Pam Aaron .... key costumer
Lexyrose Boiardo .... costume intern
Stef Maus .... wardrobe production assistant (as Stephanie Maus)
Carol McLennan .... additional costumer
Nina Roussarie .... costume intern
Sarah Schaub .... tailor
Laura Steinman .... costume supervisor
Eli Weiss .... additional costumer
Mary Wuliger .... costume intern
 
Editorial Department
Kevin Bailey .... first assistant editor (as Kevin N. Bailey)
Dana Bloder .... digital intermediate producer
Kristyn DiPane .... dailies project manager
Jessica Elvin .... on-line editor (as Jessica Allen)
Charles Herzfeld .... digital intermediate advisor
Barbara Jean Kearney .... digital intermediate executive producer
Josh Olive .... colorist: dailies
Daniel Pane .... digital intermediate advisor
Tim Stipan .... digital intermediate colorist
Jay Tilin .... on-line editor
Joe Violante .... dailies advisor (as Joey Violante)
Michael P. Whipple .... digital intermediate engineer
Richie Roefaro .... colorist assistant (uncredited)
Kevin Vale .... digital film scanning and recording (uncredited)
 
Music Department
Maya Beiser .... musician: cello
Carter Burwell .... musician: piano
Carter Burwell .... orchestrator
Fima Ephron .... musician: bass
Mishelle Fordham .... music engineer (as Missy Smith)
Rachel Fox .... music licensing
Bohdan Hilash .... musician: woodwinds
Lawrence Manchester .... music engineer
Dean Parker .... assistant to composer
Marc Ribot .... musician: guitar
Laura J. Seaton .... musician: violin (as Laura Seaton)
Bryan Smith .... music engineer
David Torn .... musician: guitar
Hal Willner .... music supervisor
 
Transportation Department
Terry Adams .... driver
Jesse Bowman .... driver
Feather Laroche .... driver
Robert Leaver .... driver
Austen Martinez .... driver
Joseph Wood .... driver
Tim Woods .... transportation captain
 
Other crew
Jason Alvarez .... production office intern
Jerry Aronson .... archive material courtesy of
Sharon Barnes .... intern: Telling Pictures
Steve Boyle .... post accountant
Paul Brennan .... additional legal services: Sloss, Eckhouse, Brennan Lawco
Mary-Lynn Cesar .... production office intern
Jeff Chena .... stand-in: James Franco
Taylor Chenette .... intern: Telling Pictures
Anthony Croson .... interview: epk animation
Ian Danskin .... intern: Telling Pictures
Jerry L. Dasti .... additional legal services: Sloss, Eckhouse, Brennan Lawco (as Jerry Dasti)
Marcus Davies .... additional researcher
Cassandra Del Viscio .... titles executive producer: Edgeworx
Emma Ellis .... intern: Telling Pictures
Kimberly Ferguson .... craft service
Pablo Ferro .... moloch card
Fabio Gatto .... production office intern
Michael Goodier .... intern: Telling Pictures
Elizabeth Hanley .... assistant post accountant
Heidi Harlan .... assitant: Ms. Redleaf and Ms. Walker
Emmett Harty Jr. .... set production assistant (as Emmett J. Harty Jr.)
Keith Linwood Jacobs .... first assistant accountant (as Keith Jacobs)
Ben Kaiser .... production assistant: walkie (as Benjamin Kaiser)
Etienne Kallos .... interview: epk actor
Ben Katz .... set intern
Frederick Kurniadi .... intern: Telling Pictures
Ben Laffin .... credit roll designer
Eric LaFranchi .... production assistant: first team
Daniel Lugo .... production assistant: paperwork
Francisco Marcial .... parking coordinator (as Cisco Marical)
Patrick Marshall .... craft service
Michael L. Mizrahi .... additional location production assistant (as Michael Mizrahi)
Robbie E. Moore .... production office intern (as Robert Moore)
Robbie E. Moore .... set intern (as Robert Moore)
Michael Morgan .... location manager and scout
Michael Morgan .... location production assistant
Michael Morgan .... locations scout
Jamie Morris .... payroll clerk
Mimi Munson .... additional researcher
Hanh Nguyen .... intern: Telling Pictures
Francine Olsen .... payroll services: Entertainment Partners
Danielle Orange .... production office assistant (as Danelle Orange)
Emily Osborne .... researcher (as Emily Q. Osborne)
J. Brent Peebles .... production accountant (as Brent Peebles)
Pablo Peralta .... caterer: Henry's International Cuisine
Meghan 'Lyric' Perez .... production office intern (as Meaghan Perez)
Terry Perry .... production office intern
Anthony Pettine .... script supervisor (as Tony Pettine)
Kayla Rodriguez .... production office intern
Russell Roubin .... production office intern
Kelsi Russell .... production secretary
Matthew Shapiro .... assistant: Mr. Epstein and Mr. Friedman
Vanita Shastry .... production office intern
Luke Tomalin Sherman .... key set production assistant
Susan Streit .... craft service
David Tecson .... title designer: Edgeworx (as Dave Tecson)
Richard D. Tong .... accountant: Telling Pictures, Tong & Fong
Anthony Torre .... caterer: Gourmet To U
Jack Walker .... production office assistant
Carol Wallace .... accountant: Telling Pictures
Amy L. Weishaar .... production assistant: background
Will Weprin .... interview: epk animation
Kristina Willemse .... intern: Telling Pictures
Canella Williams .... production coordinator (as Canella Williams-Larrabee)
Danielle Wilson .... craft service
Wing Yeong .... location scout
Abigail Zealey Bess .... location manager
Allen Ferro .... title designer (uncredited)
Pablo Ferro .... title designer (uncredited)
Judd Greener .... production assistant (uncredited)
Dan Rafeld .... additional set production assistant (uncredited)
 
Thanks
Dustin Lance Black .... thanks
Naomi Foner .... thanks
Craig Kestel .... special thanks
Kristen Molina .... special thanks
Kenn Rabin .... special thanks
Judith Weston .... thanks
 

Production CompaniesDistributorsSpecial EffectsOther Companies

Additional Details

Also Known As:
MPAA:
Rated R for strong sexual content including language and images, and for some drug material
Runtime:
84 min
Country:
Language:
Aspect Ratio:
1.85 : 1 See more »
Sound Mix:
Certification:

Did You Know?

Quotes:
[first lines]
Allen Ginsberg:"Howl" for Carl Salomon. I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night...
[continues reading but unheard, credits roll]
See more »
Soundtrack:
Forever HersSee more »

FAQ

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12 out of 19 people found the following review useful.
The Beat goes on, 12 October 2010
Author: susannah-straughan-1 from United Kingdom

Poetry can seriously damage your health. That's the main thing I've learned from recent biopics in which Johnny Depp's pox-ridden John Wilmot (The Libertine), Ben Whishaw's consumptive Keats (Bright Star) and Gwyneth Paltrow's depressive Sylvia Plath (Sylvia) have cornered the market in self-destructive behaviour.

I approached Howl, a movie about Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg, with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. On the one hand, it stars James Franco as Ginsberg and Mad Men's Jon Hamm as his lawyer, Jake Ehrlich. I'd watch these two ridiculously handsome actors in just about anything, but I really didn't want to sit through another Ode to Angst.

Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman -- The Times of Harvey Milk, The Celluloid Closet – are renowned for their documentary work and this film was originally conceived along those lines. Ginsberg's epic poem "Howl" was first published in 1955, but its explicit references to drugs and homosexuality (amongst other things) led to the prosecution of his publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1957. The intention was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of those events.

But instead of a straight documentary, the film-makers have opted to show us three sides of "Howl". There's the poem itself, with Franco trying to channel the spirit of Ginsberg as he addresses a rapt audience, in the b/w sequences from 1955. By contrast, the trial scenes are shot in colour and feature many voices with differing opinions about the merit of Ginsberg's work. Finally, the poet's own thoughts are recorded by an unseen interviewer. At the centre of all this, "Howl" is also given visual form, with a series of animations created by artist Eric Drooker.

For me, the courtroom scenes are the most enjoyable and thought-provoking element of the film. A succession of expert witnesses – some pompous, some just prejudiced – try to get to grips with issues of literary merit and the nature of obscenity. David Strathairn is admirably straight-faced in the role of prosecuting attorney Ralph McIntosh, as he tiptoes through a minefield of sexual imagery and baffling phrases like "angel-headed hipsters". Hamm's tight-lipped defence lawyer brings a sense of intellectual superiority to the proceedings – he's a crusading Don Draper with the added bonus of a moral compass.

Ginsberg himself wasn't on trial here and wasn't present at the proceedings, but the debate about whether the law is an effective tool for censoring and constraining artists remains highly topical. As one of the more thoughtful witnesses (played by Treat Williams) explains, "You can't translate poetry into prose. That's why it is poetry." The poet's own perspective on his life and work is captured in conversation with an off-camera reporter. A bearded, chain-smoking Ginsberg talks openly about his homosexuality, his mother's psychiatric problems, and fellow writer Carl Solomon, to whom "Howl" was dedicated. This strand of the film was inspired by a never-published interview that Ginsberg gave to Time magazine, but the film's dialogue is culled from a variety of sources.

Trying to explain the process of translating feelings into verse is a hard thing to pull off on film. Perhaps that's why most film-makers prefer to concentrate on the broken marriages and substance abuse that go hand in hand with tortured literary geniuses. Epstein and Friedman, who also wrote the screenplay, have done a good job trying to condense biographical detail and literary theory into what is basically a monologue – without being pretentious or boring. Brief flashbacks of Ginsberg pounding away at his typewriter, with his friend Neal Cassady, and in bed with long-term partner Peter Orlovsky, help to round out a portrait of the artist.

The final piece in the jigsaw – the poem – is the most problematic aspect of the film. How much of the work does the audience need to hear, and how do you hold their attention through some long and difficult passages? I quickly became bored of Franco's declamatory style, as he reads to a gathering of smug-looking hipsters at the Six Gallery in San Francisco.

When the recitation continues over Eric Drooker's animation, the effect is even worse. It's a matter of taste whether you thrill to the repeated imagery of fire, the minotaur-like Moloch and weirdly elongated bodies flying across the night sky. I prefer not to have someone else's interpretation of the verse foisted on me. Archive footage from the period would have been another option to fill the gap, but overall I think the poetry should have been used more sparingly.

Howl is bold, stylish attempt to capture a period in the mid-20th century when writing poetry could be an act of political rebellion – a shot across the bows of dull, conformist, heterosexual America. By casting the handsome and charismatic James Franco as Ginsberg, the directors could have turned this into yet another movie about the cult of personality. Instead they've largely succeeded in keeping the focus on the verse and on the act of writing. As the man said, "There's no Beat Generation. Just a bunch of guys trying to get published."

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