I don’t write reviews, but I do gush when I love something. I recently saw the film Howl written and directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman that stars James Franco as the infamous iconic poet Allen Ginsberg. The film chronicles the true story of his early life and also focuses on an obscenity trial where Ginsberg’s publisher was under fire for putting out Howl, an epic volume of poetry that, to some, had no literary merit while to others was bursting with it. To put it lightly, I absolutely loved, loved, loved the film.

One of the things I loved most about it was how it effectively combined dramatic and documentary filmmaking together. Not only is it wonderfully written, superbly acted, fantastically photographed and masterfully directed, the narrative structure of the film was spectacular and very refreshingly creative. The film is not just a regular biopic that just follows the character from childhood to success like most films about influential people. This film has an amazing structure to it.

The film has three main story threads that it goes back and forth between throughout the whole piece. One thread is Franco as Ginsberg being interviewed by an off-camera interviewer. The second thread is Franco again in character reading the actual poem in an underground poetry club, and the third thread is an extended courtroom sequence where Ginsberg’s publisher is the defendant in an obscenity trial. The interviews with Ginsberg are great because you get a very fluid and natural performance from Franco more akin to a stage play in the sense that the camera is just on him, he’s in character and it has an uninterrupted feel to it. Intercut with the interviews are scenes depicting the people, places and feelings he’s talking about.

The thread of Ginsberg reading the poem in an underground poetry club was especially great to me for two reasons. The first reason was because you get to hear the whole poem that the film is about, which is awesome. The second reason is because the filmmakers intercut this with some extraordinary animated sequences that metaphorically and visually symbolize a lot of the ideas of the poem.

Then in the courtroom portion of the film where Ginsberg does not appear, Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”) and David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck) face off in a case brought against Hamm’s client, the dude who published Ginsberg’s poem about whether or not the suggestive rhetoric in the poem should be considered obscene or whether it has literary merit. This thread supplements the other two perfectly because as you’re watching Ginsberg talk about his life and his work, and you’re hearing him read the actual work itself, you get the courtroom stuff, which serves as an accompanying analysis to it.

Howl is great also because it provides an alternative to conventional formulaic storytelling. Most films are so formulaically put together that almost everything that happens in a film is telegraphed for the audience way ahead of time. This is mainly due in part to the fact that if you’ve watched enough movies like most people, you’ve become used to the rhythms of storytelling, and things that used to be original become predictable because you’re so damn used to it. Hollywood prefers to stick with the formula for pretty much every film because even though it’s not often very original, the formula still gets asses in chairs.

But every now and then you get a gem like Howl that flies in the face of the conventions and delivers not a “movie” but a “film.” I go to the theater to see films that I want to buy and put up on my shelf, and Howl is just that for me. Maybe it’ll be for you, too.

Send feedback to screenshots@campuscircle.net.