Howl, starring James Franco as Alan Ginsberg, focuses on the obscenity trial and controversy that surrounded the poem. Using a variety of cinematographic techniques, the film is constructed in a nonlinear fashion. The directors chose to split the movie into four different sections. In one, Franco reads the poem to a passionate and approving young audience in a bar. In another, Franco is interviewed in his home by an unknown journalist. Still another focuses on the actual court case and the cases presented by both sides. The final, and in my opinion, most unusual portion of the film involve animated segments meant to interpret the meaning of the poem.
Although Franco appears to be an unusual choice to play Ginsberg, he does a surprisingly good job in his portrayal of the famous poet. Known for his good looks, Franco’s appearance is not the center of the film’s focus at any point. Rather, he is able to accurately imitate Ginsberg in the personal interviews with the journalist, particularly when talking about his sexuality. In an unusual yet interesting approach, Franco uses analogies relating writing to his love life. Through this, the audience is able to gain a deeper understanding of Ginsberg’s emotional attraction to the same sex and suffers through the ups and downs of his eventful life.
Throughout the trial, we learn that people are afraid of the poem because they do not understand it. In the climax, the prosecuting attorney even admits that he does not understand the poem’s literary meaning. While there are some distractions caused by the star power of Jon Hamm, the trial provides the audience with a brief analysis of the poem and learns some of its true literary merit.