If you like the literary side of graphic novels, the movie Howl is certain to appeal. Howl is perhaps the most famous poem by Allen Ginsberg, a contemporary of Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, now considered to be a milestone in the beat literary movement. At the time it was published, however, its use of language and its dark, sexual allusions to life on the fringes was accused of obscenity and tried in court.
Using transcripts of the court case and relatively contemporary interviews with Ginsberg, directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman have pulled together a fascinating biographical snapshot of the man, his poem and the times in which it was published.
The poem itself is also brought to life, both through a recreation of its first reading by a convincing James Franco, who plays the role of Ginsberg, and through a masterful animation by Ginsberg collaborator Eric Drooker. These are interspersed throughout the biographical events, bringing the poem to life in a mesmerising way.
Reading the poem now, in isolation of its circumstances, limits its impact. By binding the literature up with the story around it, and making it as compelling and well told as this, the film-makers have brought a depth of perception for a new audience without losing the magic of the literature.
The film is only on general release for a few more days – catch it at the cinema if you can.
Read our review of Howl: A Graphic Novel, featuring illustrations from Eric Drooker’s animation, published by Penguin Modern Classics.