Showing posts with label Allen Ginsberg. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Allen Ginsberg. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Talking with Allen Ginsberg

(with thanks to BBC2, The Allen Ginsberg Project
& Issa’s Untidy Hut)

Monday, July 04, 2011

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A contest for
the best minds of my generation

Howl, the motion picture by Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman, starring James Franco as Allen Ginsberg, a film that I have called both “a wonderful motion picture” and “the best exposition of a poem in a major motion picture,” is now available on DVD & Blue-Ray. You no longer need live within driving distance of a major urban center or a good college art house film scene in order to view it. And view it you should. Franco as the young Ginsberg is fantastic. The DVD also has extra features not previously available and comes with English & French subtitle options.

The film was nominated for a Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival and the Golden Berlin Bear prize at the Berlin Film Festival. Carter Burwell was nominated for film composer of the year award for this and four other films at the World Soundtrack Awards. Howl won the Freedom of Expression Award from the National Board of Review.

I have a copy of the new DVD of Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman’s motion picture Howl, starring James Franco as Allen Ginsberg, for the first three readers of this blog who correctly answer the following two questions:

Who actually spent time in jail when the SFPD “busted” Howl?

Who played this person in the film?

Members of my family, immediate & extended, and regular contributors to this blog are not eligible. Neither are current or former employees of City Lights nor residents of Nowhere Zen, New Jersey. Send your entries via email to Silliman AT gmail DOT com. You must put HOWL CONTEST in the headline.

Here is Ginsberg at Reed College in February, 1956, giving the earliest recorded reading of Howl. This may be the only recording of the poem where an audience has never before actually read the text. Ginsberg was hitch-hiking around the Northwest with Gary Snyder at the time, and reads only the first part of the poem. Interesting to note where (and how nervously) the laughter falls.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

L-R: John Cassady, Scott Lettieri & Jerry Cimino

Jerry Cimino of the Beat Museum
& John Cassady (son of Neal)

discuss Howl*

Howl in theaters now

*If you have trouble playing the recording,
right-click & download
an unedited version here

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I saw the best exposition of a poem in a major motion picture, Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman’s Howl, coming to art theaters starting on the 24th & also, I believe, available thru various video-on-demand services. Howl is also perhaps the only major motion picture I’ve ever seen that is, in both form & function, the close reading of a text. I have never seen a film based on a work of literature that even remotely approached Howl’s devotion to the words on the paper. If you’re a writer, or care about poetry, you are almost certainly going to love this film. Howl was made for you, with intelligence & more than a little cinematic bravery, and it shows. Howl is a wonderful motion picture.

It is a lot harder, however, to imagine Howl appealing to a broad audience. Virtually every word in this film comes directly from the poem itself – maybe one third of its 90 minutes are given over to a pastiche of different readings that start with the film’s first words, James Franco as Ginsberg reading the title and dedication at the Six Gallery in 1955, then launching into a surprisingly soft [and quite effective] presentation of its famous opening words

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked

or from interviews with Ginsberg or the records of the 1957 obscenity trial in San Francisco’s municipal court, Judge Clayton Horn presiding. This makes for a very curious film dynamic – terrific for opening the poem up, maybe not so well suited to holding the attention of Borat fans. Actors portraying Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassidy, Peter Orlovsky & Lawrence Ferlinghetti are on screen a lot, but not one has a single line in this film. The closest we get is Ginsberg reading Cassidy’s “Dear John” letter explaining that the Adonis of Denver really does want to be straight. Other major figures – the other poets at the Six Gallery or other witnesses in defense of the poem, which included Kenneth Rexroth, Mark Linenthal, Walter Van Tilburg Clark, Herbert Blau, Arthur Foff & Vincent McHugh – are missing from the film entirely.

This push-pull between complete erasure & obsessive detailing is a fundamental (albeit strange) dynamic of this project. We learn, for example, which colleges the prosecution witnesses worked at, or hear William Burroughs & Herbert Huncke mentioned by their surnames because they’re in the poem, tho otherwise never present in the picture, Lucien Carr only by his first name for the same reason, yet Shigeyoshi Murau, who was actually arrested & spent the night in jail for selling a copy of the book to the police, is entirely absent. He was the co-defendant. And perhaps most strangely, given that Epstein & Friedman are San Franciscans, or that Ginsberg wrote the poem at Peter Orlovsky’s apartment at 5 Turner Terrace atop Potrero Hill or that the trial was a San Francisco affair, Howl was filmed entirely in New York.

Except for that portion that was done in Thailand. A major component of the film is a series of animations created by a team led by Eric Drooker to illustrate those aspects of the poem that are too abstract (Moloch!) or too literal perhaps in their presentation of matters physical (a child emerging from its mother’s vagina being the most explicit), often as sparkly spirits swoop overhead – these spirits are not so much elements of the poem (unless of course we imagine them as angel-headed hipsters) as they are aspects of forced narrative cohesion. There are some moments where I laughed out loud at animated clich├ęs (my fave is a forest of undulating penises looking ever so much like seaweed), but the animation mostly solves one of the major cinematic challenges of this work – what to look at while listening to a poem.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Saturday, October 05, 2002

One point that I’ve made three times* since I began the Blog a little over a month ago is that themes, for me at least, don’t work. That is to say, I literally can’t read them. Them, in this instance, being poems with a point. When I try, the poem invariably loses my interest before I complete the text. My experience as a reader is that it feels like coercive sentiment & I find myself physically repelled by the poem. The affect is nausea. It doesn’t matter whether I agree with the sentiment or not. Nor for that matter does it need to be about war or politics – I’ve had the same problem with any number of other noble topics, from AIDS to the environment to love.

Great political poetry – & by extension thematic poetry – is not impossible. I would point to Allen Ginsberg’s “Wichita Vortex Sutra, Part II” and Robert Duncan’s “The Fire, Passages 13” as two of the finest works of the past fifty years, let alone two of the best political poems. In each instance, the devastation & viciousness that is the essence of war** functions as no more than one axis around which a much wider range of reference is organized. The experience of each poem is to move outward, incorporating a broader & much richer cross-section of the world than, say, just the political. In the process, each contextualizes (thus making a case for the importance of) the underlying theme itself.

With its massive deployment of parallelisms invoking a tone right out of the Old Testament and the call-&-response oral traditions of the black Baptist church, Amiri Baraka’s “Somebody Blew Up America” is neither great poetry nor simply another commemorative bauble by Pinsky, Collins or Angelou. At one level, the poem is about the palpable but nonetheless abstract presence of evil in the world itself. At another, the dizzying juxtapositions that are yoked together via the constant question – “Who? Who? Who?” – play with the concept of paranoia itself. Anti-Semitism runs throughout the poem, not simply in the few lines that have been scattered widely about the media. So do anti-capitalism, anti-authoritarianism and a limited version of anti-racism. But ultimately it is the referential range of Baraka’s juxtapositions –

Who need fossil fuel when the sun ain't goin' nowhere

Who make the credit cards
Who get the biggest tax cut
Who walked out of the Conference
Against Racism
Who killed Malcolm, Kennedy & his Brother
Who killed Dr King, Who would want such a thing?
Are they linked to the murder of

that restricts the poet’s impulse. The poem exists entirely at the level of public discourse. There may be moments of referential opacity if you don’t get a reference, but none of intimacy. It may help some readers to know that “Little Bobby” is Bobby Hutton, the first person to sign on with Huey Newton & Bobby Seale in Oakland’s Black Panther Party, gunned down at the age of 18 by the police there on April 6, 1968, but the poem does nothing to suggest that Hutton, or anyone for that matter, has any reality or meaning beyond the headlines from which the poem is constructed. Private life is reduced to the mention of a tax cut.

The public reactions to this poem have generally missed its playful elements as well as the way in which that reiterated baseline who who echoes a genuine howl of grief that is also present & perfectly audible in the text. It is in the nature of public discourse to miss just such elements of life, poetic justice of sorts for a text that is so indebted to this same discourse. But the ineluctable problem of any thematic text almost invariably has to do with its reduction of discourse. Duncan & Ginsberg could not be more radically opposed to Baraka.

** It matters little whether or not the war can be “justified.”
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