October 21, 2010

The Need To Howl in 2010

James Franco as Allen Ginsberg, in Howl.
Looking at the fringes of independent film is like looking at the Paris Review or at the Brooklyn music scene. It provides a more accurate pulse of society than the thumping of big budget, big money entertainment, where it is never clear how much the appeal is based on marketing overload. So why is “Howl,” that defining poem of beat excess, depth and fantasy, now a film at art houses these days?

Those famous opening lines of the poem, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,”etc. have attained so much fame that they have successfully defined not only the intellectual power of the beat poets, but of a generation caught between cold war paranoia, civil rights and the always present existential dread of the self-analytical artist? It is not an anniversary of the poem, but still the fear of a dissent into madness seems to me to define my generation as much as it did Ginsberg's. Who are the best minds of my generation? I am in my late thirties, and have seen the best writer of my generation, David Foster Wallace take his life after several stays in a mental hospital. While he may not have been an “angel headed hipster,” he did straddle the worlds of science, philosophy and humanity in a way that I feel represents many of us who are pushing away from specialization while filling our psyche with all of the information we can find in order to understand complexity. The fear this induces can lead from the prescription counter, to rehab, or from a university to a concert hall, and yet for those like Wallace the goal of universal knowledge and expression seems unattainable in a way that is irreconcilable with survival.

All of this is to say that revisiting “Howl” through the new film may not be for nostalgia as much as it seems. Instead the film, and even more so the poem, does what great art often does, which is to remind us of our own struggles and dreams.

Howl, directed by Rob Epstien and Jeffery Friedman, and starring James Franco, is currently playing in limited theaters. Catch all the reviews, and watch the trailer, on MRQE.

This article was guest written by Matthew Putman, a physicist, composer, entrepreneur and occasional film and theater producer. More on Matthew at www.matthewcputman.com.



  1. Very interesting, I'll be sure to catch it when it comes out in Aus.

  2. Very interesting, I'll be sure to catch it when it comes out in Aus.

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