I watched the movie Howl today (by filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffery Friedman). It’s about Allen Ginsberg, played by James Franco, and covers some extremely interesting points about the obscenity trial in 1957 (Ginsburg himself was not on trial; his publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, had the honor of attending).
You can read the poem Howl and ask yourself if this legal definition of obscenity applies: “…an act, utterance, or item tending to corrupt the public morals by its indecency or lewdness.”
You can also checkout some biographical references and allusions in Howl…
As one very decent review of the movie points out that the screenplay uses, “…the poetry of Howl and the prose of interviews and court trials surrounding it…”, I’m compelled to comment on how well the movie shows the relativity of a critic’s judgement.
Since we’re talking history and not fiction here, I can reveal that the poem was judged to be Not Obscene. But, even knowing that, there’s enough creativity in this film to make it a “must watch” :-)
Naturally, a high-profile court case could make any poem famous, whether it was of redeeming social value or not.
I do hope some of you have read Howl, or will read it, and give your opinions about its worthiness or lack thereof…
I mentioned earlier about how well the movie shows the relativity of a critic’s judgement and, for me, that was the most captivating part of the movie, not the “obscene” parts.
If you’d like to read the trial transcripts of the literary witnesses try, Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression.
And, if you’d rather hear than read the poem, use this link of Allen Ginsberg, himself, reading Howl…
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