Monday, June 28, 2010
By the oddest happenstance, I happened to see the premiere of HOWL on 27 June, the final film shown at the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival of 2010.
(Click on the title above if you want to see a slide show of James Franco and others -- I seldom use flash so these are dim photos, while my friend Fred came away with some very professional photos, I am sure -- Franco even consciously looked toward his camera to provide him with a good shot.
Anyone who lived in those days of repression/suppression in the 1950s can well relate to a man who is driven to HOOOOWWWWL.
Has there ever been a movie dedicated to a verse! There was an excellent series of ten programs on ten different poets on PBS, called VOICES AND VISION, and this is a great addition to those, and a full-fledged movie. This film is constructed in a very unsual way -- an homage to a poem and to poetry, a portrait of the poet who wrote it, and an account of the trial where freedom of expression was assaulted as Lawrence Ferlinghetti was charged with obscenity for having published HOWL at his City Lights Press. (Better to see it, and be surprised by its structure, when it opens in September than to have me describe it.)
While the U.S.A. was in the grips of the McCarthy era -- when the seeds were being planted for the Right Wing dimming of consciousness that has spread across the country -- San Francisco was a quiet oasis, a haven for the gay and the brilliant not wanted in the rest of America. Everyone who comes to San Francisco experiences a time that is then buried and remembered fondly, boring new immigrants with accounts of a previous layer of time. The media discovered San Francisco, and the city was transformed into a later character.
In those remarkable days, there was an annual contest for the best poem written in the city -- Just imagine that -- that level of civilization. HOWL won, but perhaps not many people know that our outgoing San Francisco poet laureate, Jack Hirschman, was runner-up with a wonderful poem that would certainly have won if it had not arrived in the same year as that boiling fountain that erupted from Ginsburg in his epic HOWL.
I was fortunate that my English mentor at Indiana University brought Jack to that campus for a semester soon after that, and we could be inspired by his great energy (New York Russian Jewish energy). He read Yeats' "Lapis Lazuli" for one class, and made certain that the students knew that when Yeats used the word "gay" in the poem he meant homosexual, and the bravery and survival skills of people who are "gay" or who find the "gay" in themselves:
All things fall and are built again,
And those that build them again are gay.
Accomplished fingers begin to play.
Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.
James Franco reads HOWL well, and he reads it as it must be read for the way the film is constructed, but I must say that no-one, not even Ginsburg himself ever read HOWL with such fierce energy as Jack did for a small group of us at Indiana University. I tried to hide the fact that my legs began to shake before he got through reading, and I had difficulty controlling my shaking body. I was ready to become a holy roller for poetry.
Although Franco and the actor playing Peter Orlovski did howl from a rooftop their happiness at being in love, Franco did not actually howl while reading the verse - I just happened to catch him yawning: