19 Aug 2014
67° Partly Cloudy
Patch Instagram photo by mtlchef
Patch Instagram photo by richardsalon

Decades Later, "Howl" Still Controversial

Film based on famous Ginsberg poem gets mixed reviews at Stony Brook Film Festival.

Decades Later, "Howl" Still Controversial

Ginger Williams is a poet and performer from Setauket with a special connection to the film Howl, which screened Thursday night at the Stony Brook Film Festival.

"I've met Allen Ginsberg," said Williams, who in the 1960s lived in San Francisco, one of the centers of Ginsberg's Beat generation.

"We used to go places and recite Blake poetry to his harmonium," she said. "He was very engaging...I had a lot of exposure to that world, being of that age, so I had a pretty good look at all these people."

The cultural significance of the Beat generation was on display as Howl, the film based on Beat poet Allen Ginsberg's most famous poem, played to an audience in which a number of filmgoers had a deep appreciation for the subject matter.

Eliot Greene, a recent graduate of Binghamton University who spent the last 18 months studying Ginsberg's works, said the poem "Howl" forced the nation to deal with progressive ideas when it was originally published in 1956.

"The movie is a reminder that there are still progressive elements that are happening right now," Greene said.

Howl starred James Franco and featured appearances by Mary-Louise Parker, Jon Hamm, Jeff Daniels, and David Strathairn. Alternately filmed in color and in black-and-white with vivid stretches of animation interwoven with the live action scenes, the film recounted some of the defining moments of Ginsberg's life, including the 1957 obscenity trial surrounding the poem "Howl."

During the screening, however, a number of viewers walked out. Reviews following the show were mixed.

"I went into it with high hopes," said Jeff Cootner of Port Jefferson Station. "I didn't think there was enough Kerouac in it. I didn't think the poem was accessible. It was very creative and the music was great, but I was disappointed all in all."

Rebecca Grabie of Stony Brook thought actor James Franco, who played Ginsberg, carried the film well.

Another filmgoer, who declined to give his name, called the film "very, very strange."

Kash Bandara, a Stony Brook student, called the film "emotionally moving."

"You might have to get past all the sexual content if you're not used to it," he said.

Sheila Herson of Smithtown called the film excellent.

"It was a well done movie," she said. "It was my generation."

Share This Article