Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.
USA, 2010. Werc Werk Works, Telling Pictures, RabbitBandini Productions, Radiant Cool. Screenplay by Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman. Cinematography by Edward Lachman. Produced by Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman, Elizabeth Redleaf, Christine K. Walker. Music by Carter Burwell. Production Design by Therese DePrez. Costume Design by Kurt and Bart. Film Editing by Jake Pushinsky. Dorian Awards 2010. National Board of Review Awards 2010.
The creation of the four-part poem that gained Allen Ginsberg the notoriety and fame that lasted the rest of his life is the subject of this howlingly boring docudrama by Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein, Academy Award-winning documentarians who have turned to narrative film for the first time. In an effort to maintain verisimilitude, they announce that every word spoken in the film comes from life, and maintain that claim by having James Franco play Ginsberg in recreated interviews while scenes from life that he describes are acted out, for the most part without dialogue. In between there are scenes from the obscenity trial of 1957 in which Howl‘s publisher is forced to defend himself against America’s puritanical reaction to its obscurely motivated prose. Beautiful animation, inspired by Ginsberg’s own work, makes the poem’s lyrical passages come to life, and Franco does a terrific job of recreating this highly memorable artist, but the whole thing is strung together so haphazardly that all efforts land with a dull thud. The narration eventually becomes listless upon the ear, and the dramatized scenes lack tension. It ultimately fails to comfortably ride the line between documentary and feature filmmaking, and had the directors stuck to the former they likely would have come up with something more captivating.