The Problem With James Franco's 'Howl'

By Alyssa Rosenberg

James Franco makes a much more plausible Allen Ginsburg than I'd expected in the trailer for indie Howl, coming out later this year, but the clip raises a question for me:

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Why not make a straight-ahead Ginsberg biopic instead of a washed-out, highly stylized, slightly surreal movie? I don't think that this is necessarily the wrong decision. An artistic choice to make an homage to Ginsberg's vision isn't the kind of thing that can be judged that way. But isn't Ginsberg a significant enough cultural figure to merit a mass-market, major studio biopic? If Harvey Milk is, Ginsberg is—though Milk is a martyr, and a less controversial man, which I'm sure makes turning his life into a movie easier.

If there was going to be a Ginsberg biopic, the obscenity trial would be a great central drama, and this would be a terrific cast for it—Franco, Mary-Louise Parker, David Strathairn, Jeff Daniels, and Jon Hamm, who between this and The Town is about to be absolutely everywhere. Maybe the most surreal thing about this is that they had to go the quirky, indie route to get these movies, and these parts, at all.

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