Before Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman wrote and directed HOWL, they worked on several other films together, starting in the 80s with COMMON THREADS: STORIES FROM THE QUILT, a documentary about the stories behind the AIDS Memorial Quilt that won the Oscar for Best Documentary. They went onto make THE CELLULOID CLOSET, a doc about…
James Franco in HOWL, directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
HOWL is not an Allen Ginsberg biopic but something at once trickier and more modest: a celebratory adaptation of his most famous poem. For their first fiction feature, the veteran documentarians Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (THE CELLULOID CLOSET, PARAGRAPH 175) have recruited a lineup of top-tier collaborators: an all-star cast led by James Franco, cinematographer Ed Lachman, production designer Therese DePrez, composer Carter Burwell. As you’d expect, HOWL looks and sounds terrific. But the prudent insistence on documentary fidelity — the film was in fact conceived as a doc — is restrictive, even perverse. Just about every line you hear comes from HOWL itself, or is adapted from interviews that Ginsberg gave after its publication and from court records of the 1957 obscenity trial against City Lights publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti that ensured the poem’s immortality.