If there is an idea that comes across here, it seemed to be something about the liberatory, utopic feel of the poem. What feels hard to recapture about 1955 was not why Howl might have been shocking or met an obscenity charge. (The trial part of the film was the least compelling - it's fun to see the expert witnesses make fools of themselves, but it's all too smug.) What you get from Franco's reading is the celebration of these men and their beauty. It's the sex revolution before there was a sexual revolution. In the interview Franco as Ginsberg says that the key thing about the infamous line about saintly motorcyclists is that it ends with joy, which the reader doesn't expect. And as Andrew O'Hehir points out in his review, despite all our progress, we still don't have a lot of unabashedly romantic and erotic celebrations of same-sex love in our culture (or, arguably, of heterosexuality either.)
The movie also made me think more about the idea of self-disclosure, which I contemplated in my last post. Why not just write what happened isn't quite the question for poets, of course. To the extent that the movie has any kind of a 'plot,' it's how Ginsberg comes to write the poem he doesn't want his father to read. The format of the film protects it from the paint-by-numbers Freudian 'find your voice' thing of most Hollywood biographies. But we get close to it when Franco as Ginsberg talks about learning to put the everyday in his poems, about how the best of us comes out when we speak to our friends, but writers hide that to try to sound better than they are. This took Ginsberg to his reinvention of Whitman, making his subtext text. It's a familiar revelation, but somehow Franco makes it work.
But here's what I was really left thinking about, of course: Jon Hamm. He doesn't have a lot to do as Ferlinghetti's lawyer. But when we get to "who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue amid blasts of leaden verse & the tanked-up clatter of the iron regiments if fashion & the nitroglycerine shrieks of the fairies of advertising & the mustard gas of sinister intelligent editors, or were run down by the drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality" the animation takes us past billboards that look exactly like the opening sequence of Mad Men. There's no way this is a coincidence. Later we see Ginsberg in a San Francisco ad office, moving tag lines around the page, expressing relief that he can survive in a straight job "with several secretaries." All of which leads me to one inescapable conclusion: in the series finale, when Don finally drops acid, he's going to find out that his whole stint in adversing was a peyote trip and he's going to wake up in the apartment of Midge's bohemian friends from Season one. Roger was the ghost of his dead father, Bert Cooper is the shaman, and Ken Cosgrove is the angel-headed hipster." Then he and Sal run away together. (Sal as in Sal Paradise: coincidence? I think not.) Who's with me?