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James Franco as Allen Ginsberg: Tonight at Sundance

January 21, 2010 | 12:44 pm

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Beat fans in Park City will be lining up tonight to see "Howl," the film about Allen Ginsberg's seminal poem and the censorship fight around it, starring James Franco. It's one of 16 films in dramatic competition at the Sundance Film Festival, now underway. Our film reviewer Kenneth Turan says Franco gives a "strong performance."

The Guardian reports on the origins of the film:

Eight years ago, film-makers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman received a call from Ginsberg's estate asking them to make a documentary about Howl. With the 50th anniversary of the poem's publication (and subsequent obscenity trial) approaching, the estate wanted the best. Epstein and Friedman have, between them, won Oscars and Emmys for a lifetime of work including The Times of Harvey Milk, about the first openly gay man elected to public office in California; and The Celluloid Closet, based on Vito Russo's book about screen depictions of homosexuality. Ginsberg's estate knew the pair could deliver an in-depth documentary on time and on budget; plus, they were queer enough to understand the social pressures that formed the poet.

That documentary never happened; instead, Epstein and Friedman wound up creating a narrative film, hoping to speak to Ginsberg's creative spirit.

"Howl" is the most literary of the films in competition, and it begins screening tonight. Franco, who's appeared in all three "Spider-Man" films, as well as, recently, the daytime soap "General Hospital," is no stranger to literary projects. In fact, he's been taking creative writing classes in the MFA program at Columbia University. When he's not busy filming, that is.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo credit: JoJo Whilden / Sundance Film Festival / Associated Press

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