Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Curation #13 from my Kerouac bookshelf: Howl, the movie

Item #13 in my Kerouac bookshelf curation project is a DVD of the 2010 film, Howl. As once would guess, it focuses around young Allen Ginsberg and his famous poem. The film was directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman and runs 84 minutes. This DVD has special features as well. Like other Kerouac-related DVDs I've curated, this is still in shrink-wrap because I bought it to show my Kerouac class at the University of Maine at Farmington and never got around to doing so.

I watched this once, when it first came out, and I remember liking it. However, I don't remember much about the film. In fact, in all honesty, my memory is that Crystal and I watched it in a motel room while traveling and I slept through some of it.

The film stars James Franco as Ginsberg, and Franco has been accused by several women of being sexually exploitative or inappropriate. For some reason, despite these accusations, he has pretty much avoided the wrath of the #MeToo movement compared to other Hollywood types.

Which brings up a larger point. When an artist or writer acts badly, does that give us a reason to boycott his or her work? If so, what about Kerouac? He was certainly no role model when it came to sobriety or fatherhood, and -- let's face it -- he repeatedly fucked very young prostitutes in Mexico (and probably Tangiers -- I can't remember but Mexico makes my point). He would incur the wrath of the #MeToo movement, for sure.

We never came to any unanimous conclusions in class, but my last one was in Spring 2017 and the current movement hadn't started yet. Some students said personal behavior didn't matter and some said it did when it came to patronizing an artist or writer. The issue of degree never seemed to get much traction in our discussions, although personally I think there are differences between bad behaviors: some are worse than others and the punishment should fit the crime.

I believe Ally Sheedy and the others and I have no reason to doubt that James Franco is a douchebag when it comes to treating woman. Why he is still working is beyond my understanding, but perhaps a reckoning awaits him yet. What about due process, you say? "Out here, due process is a bullet." Name the movie and you win a prize.

But I digress. Howl got some good critical reviews although viewers weren't so kind (e.g., 3/5 on Rotten Tomatoes and 6.8/10 on IMDB). I wouldn't steer you away from the film, but I would definitely encourage you to take half an hour and read the poem along with Ginsberg by using the following links:

"Howl," the text
Ginsberg reading "Howl"

I made my students do this and I am sure it left an impression on them all, one way or the other.

Below is a picture of the top shelf of my Kerouac bookshelf showing the placement of my Howl DVD (9th item in the pile) on the day I started curating my collection. Next up: On The Road, the film. Warning: I'm not going to be panning it like so many others have done.

The top of my Kerouac bookshelf

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