I got round to watching Howl on DVD last night. Wasn't expecting much, but in fact found it quite a well-made movie, interesting structurally in how it flits between James Franco as Ginsberg reciting the poem, the court-room drama of Howl's trial for obscenity, Ginsberg in interview reflecting on how the poem got written and then strange animated interludes that vaguely illustrate passages from the poem. Franco makes quite a convincing young Ginsberg, especially in the interview scenes, despite being endowed with film-star looks which Ginsberg notably lacked.
What fails to keep one's interest, of course, is Howl itself, which after the famous opening - which has a certain uplift and attack - degenerates into a repetitive and thoroughly adolescent whirligig of titillating silliness that makes you wonder what all the fuss was about. One of the justifications Ginsberg gives for his poetic style - at least according to one of the interview parts - is that poetry should be as untrammelled and unexpurgated as when you chat to your friends about your private life. Shame he didn't take note - even to some degree - of Eliot's "It is not in his personal emotions, the emotions provoked by particular events in his life, that the poet is in any way remarkable or interesting. His particular emotions may be simple, or crude, or flat." In Ginsberg's case, all of these - well, perhaps not flat - more tiresomely self-absorbed.
On the other hand, Ginsberg doesn't deserve to be excised from the history of post-war American poetry, as Helen Vendler tried to do in the Faber Book of Cont. American Poetry. He wrote better poems than Howl .The vatic orality of his Whitmanian long lines freed up a ranginess in poetic form which has been influential, not least to readers-aloud; equally, the homocentric sexual frankness of his imagery and diction gave license for important new areas of expression.
And hold on to your hats - James Franco has now made and stars in a film about Hart Crane! (see Silliman's Blog for yesterday)