Burning For The Ancient Heavenly Connection

Burning For The Ancient Heavenly Connection

Static Mass Rating: 5/5
HOWL (Blu-ray)
Soda Pictures 

Release date: June 20th 2011
Certificate (UK): 15
Running time: 84 minutes

Directors: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman

Writers:Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman

Cast: James Franco, Mary-Louise Parker, Jon Hamm, Jeff Daniels, David Strathairn, Treat Williams

At school I was never very good at poetry. I struggled to decipher meanings from verses, finding them too difficult, too abstract. As soon I grasped the meaning in one line, I’d quickly lose my way with the next. It was the same with Keats, Yeats, Byron and Dickinson.

I was hopeless, utterly hopeless and my English teacher knew it.

During my later teenage years I started to discover the Beat generation and the poets from the 1950’s, namely Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, whose verses were much easier to follow and relate to.


Naturally, this brought me right to Allen Ginsberg and his infamous Howl poem, but I didn’t know very much about the obscenity trial which followed in the wake of its publishing until watching this film.

Published in 1956, Howl projected not only Ginsberg’s own fears, doubts, frustrations and anger towards an uncertain world, but also those around him who were feeling the same thing. In the film, Ginsberg (James Franco) recalls road trips, love affairs, and his quest for personal liberation which ultimately led to him writing the poem.


Howl also flashes back to the trial and the charges of obscenity brought against Howl’s publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Andrew Rogers). In a San Francisco courtroom, prosecutor Ralph McIntosh (David Strathairn) argues for why the book, Howl and Other Poems, should be banned while defence attorney Jake Ehrlich (Jon Hamm) argues for freedom of speech and creative expression before Judge Clayton Horn (Bob Balaban).

McIntosh and Ehrlich interview and cross examine witnesses who all try one way or another to stand by what they believe is decent and acceptable literature for public consumption.


But it’s not all courtroom, testimonies and drama. Ginsberg never followed convention so why should a film about his poem? Instead it’s a hybrid of live action, animation, recitals and black & white segments back by a fruity score from Carter Burwell as it tells the story of a man who tried to express himself to a world that deemed him obscene.

Franco gives a stunning and passionate performance as Ginsberg, a man struggling to come to terms with himself and his sexuality; it’s a role which seems to suit him perfectly. Visually stunning, deeply emotional and extremely thought provoking, Howl is a film and a poem that’s hard to forget, both for its beauty and legacy.


  • Audio Commentary with James Franco and directors Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
  • Howl – Notes On A Scandal (0.59)
  • Making Of Featurette (41.43)

The Blu-ray special features includes The Making of Howl which I found very interesting. It’s separated into chapters and presented by directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman and includes behind-the-scene footage and interviews with cast, crew and people who knew and worked with Ginsberg. James Franco also talks about wanting to work with directors as he was already familiar with one of their earlier films, The Celluloid Closet (1996), having seen it while he was at university.

You might also be interested in these articles:

I never finished watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as a child. With a character like the Child Catcher, wouldn’t you be scared too? I decided to give it another try.

Donnie Darko’s little sister has a go at time travelling and hanging out with deformed bunnies, but fails to recapture the magic and energy of the original.

Born as a radio serial in the 1930′s, The Green Hornet has seen many incarnations, and this should have been his ultimate adventure but sadly, it is not.

The Human Centipede taps into that primal fear of having our bodies tampered with. The touch of a doctor, the prodding of a dentist…the panic!

While exploring the world’s largest and most remote underwater cave system, a sudden storm traps a team of divers, forcing them deeper underwater to look for another exit.