Category Archives: Rob Epstein

>Friday’s Weekly Round-Up 15


Howl (more reviews)

Howl’s opening in the UK, as when it opened in the US, has elicited rave reviews. As with any ambitious and challenging work, however, it has also received a few put-down’s. For those of you who want to get an exhaustive (and exhausting!) over-view of all the reviews so far, we would direct you to the movie-review site, Rotten Tomatoes (which was listing, when last we looked, 93 of them!). Interestingly, the response to the film has been almost 50/50, split down the middle, those giving thumbs-up, and those having reservations. Here at the Ginsberg blog, lest we get criticized for being merely hagiographers, (sic), are a few “unsatisfied customers” (are we masochists or what?). Philip French, for example, in last week’s (London) Observer writes:

“Howl was one of the first books I bought in America on arrival there as a graduate student in 1957. Not long after the trial I spent some time in san Francisco, where columnist Herb Caen had just coined the term “beatnik”, and I can’t think of the late 50s without lines from Ginsberg’s liberating poem coming to mind. I also recall a 1958 New Yorker cartoon depicting an eager society hostess standing beside a scruffy, bearded young man in T-shirt and jeans at a cocktail party. A frosty, neatly attired literary intellectual is saying to her: “No, Madam, I do not want to meet a spokesman for the Beat Generation””

Well, if you don’t want to know, then I guess there isn’t any reason in continuing.

Sukhdev Sandhu in the Daily Telegraph is more curt (and more interestingly provocative):

“Every frame of this ambitious and sometimes fascinating film is visually striking. But it feels too celebratory, too triumphant: it captures Howl’s joy, but not enough of its terrors”.

The Irish press voiced similar ambivalences. “Howl is a bit of a mess, and a pretentious one too” ( Pretentious?), writes Paul Whitington in the Irish Independent, tho’ Tara Brady, in the Irish Times, calls it “a tremendous new film..quite unlike any of the many adaptations, biopics, documentaries and lo-fi portraits that have gone before. The premise is simple yet quietly bold: Howl is a film of the poem”

Eamon McCann in the Irish Telegraph, keeping the focus on the poem, takes it one step further

“I came back to Allen Ginsberg’s poem about 10 years ago, nervously. I’d put it away 30 or more years back, hadn’t read or recited it since. I remembered that I’d believed it then not only brilliant, but a tremendously significant literary work that everyone must immediately be alerted to for urgent edification of their souls.(I thought I might well be disappointed) But Howl was a revelation all over again.”

Remembering (Personal Encounters)

Last week’s Guardian article, and indeed the whole Howl film phenomena in general, has elicited a number of personal recollections. Here’s New Mexican poet Bill Pearlman, from his blog, Rough Road Review:

“Read from my work at our PEN Writers Aloud and read a little from each book. At Santa Ana Cafe afterward, somebody asked me where I would start getting acquainted with modern poetry and I recommended Donald Allen’s New American Poetry anthology. I talked of Ginsberg’s wonderful hallucinogen-inspired poem ‘Wales Visitation’ after commenting on some of my own attempts in that realm. Allen’s reading in 1967 at UNM when my community was being formed in the wreckage of the Vietnam catastrophe and our desire to get back to the land and make something with an upsurge of new and poetical energy was pivotal. Allen, as Anne (Waldman) writes (in The Guardian piece), had this amazing capacity to connect with people. I think he was a missionary in a sense, similar to what Ram Dass has become, and he changed lives, my own included. The last time I saw him we all gathered at Vesuvio’s next to City Lights and Jack Hirschman was there, and Peter O(rlovsky), and several poets from the Bay Area. I remember buying Allen a beer and Jack Hirschman) read a poem and Allen was quiet but still the center of the gathering. I read once at Naropa in ’77 and was grateful that Allen came to the reading and gave me the thumbs up.”

And here’s Milwaukee resident, John Eklund (from On – warning: only peripheral Allen content!)

William Honey (we’re cheating a bit with this one too, it dates from 2005) testifies (as do so many) to Allen’s incredible generosity, reading with him on a memorable occasion in Paris at George Whitman’s Shakespeare & Co bookstore (“..what George had forgot to tell me was that Allen Ginsberg was featured poet for the evening..!)

Recitation (A Supermarket in California)

From a report on the blog of the Denver Westword, March 1st, reporting on the local Poetry Out Loud state finals:

“Quinita Thomas of the Colorado School for the Blind knocked “em dead with her rendition of Allen Ginsberg wandering the aisles of a California supermarket and bumping into his spirit guide: “I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eying the grocery boys”.

Seems Allen’s poem is quite the hit in this NEA/Poetry Foundation joint-endeavor to “encourage the nation’s youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation”. Here‘s Emmanuel Waddell, Alabama winner, reading the same work (“A Supermarket in California”) . And here‘s California’s own Giovanni Espinosa in 2010. And here’s Allen himself reading the poem (“What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman..”)


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Filed under Allen Ginsberg, B, Bill Pearlman, Eamon McCann, Howl, James Franco, Jeffrey Friedman, John Eklund, Paul Whitington, Philip French, Rob Epstein, Sukhdev Sandhu, Tara Brady, William Honey

>Friday’s Weekly Round-Up 14


Howl in England

Following up from our notices last week, here’s more English press coverage related to this Friday (today’s) UK opening of Howl. Mick Brown, in The Telegraph, gives the basic background in How I Scribbled Magic Lines From My Real Mind”. Andrew Lowry, in the blog for the same paper, provocatively heads his report “The Beats Were Self-Indulgent Poseurs But The New Ginsberg Film Is Definitely Worth Seeing”. John Patterson in The Guardian points out that The Beats Have Had A Bad Rap But Howl Lets Their Words Speak For Themselves”“Howl, first the poem, now the movie, gives back all power to the words themselves; made to be spoken, scatted, screamed, intoned or sung”. And here’s Tom Huddleston in Time Out – “There’s no denying that this is a bold, inspiring piece of work, putting experimental techniques in the service of a heartfelt, insightful and surprisingly audience-friendly work of art”

Interviews with the film-makers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman about the film can be found here, here and here.

Janine Pommy Vega

We noted in passing and with sadness, this past December, the death of the great poet/bard Janine Pommy Vega and drew your attention to the Woodstock Times obit and to Anne Waldman’s memoir (and here’s a couple of other obituaries (Ken Hunt, writing in The Independent, and an unsigned one from (London’s) Daily Telegraph). This past Sunday friends gathered at the Colony Cafe in Woodstock to salute and pay respects to her, and this coming Sunday (the 27th), it will happen again, this time in New York. The Bowery Poetry Club and The St Mark’s Poetry Project are co-sponsoring “A Praise-Day for Janine Pommy Vega”. The reading/tribute (featuring Andy Clausen, Bob Holman, John Giorno, Anne Waldman, Hettie Jones and others) will take place at the Bowery Poetry Club, starting at 1 o’clock. As with last weekend, the event will also include a video presentation – a screening of Kurt Hemmer’s “As We Cover The Streets” featuring mesmerizing performance footage of Janine.

Speaking of mesmerizing footage, here’s Janine’s long-time friend and companion Andy Clausen in their home in Willow, New York, remembering her and reading her poem “Wartime Kitchen”

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Filed under Andrew Lowry, Andy Clausen, Howl, James Franco, Janine Pommy Vega, Jeffrey Friedman, John Patterson, Kurt Hemmer, Mick Brown, Rob Epstein, Tim Huddleston

>HOWL Reviews Keep a comin’

[HOWL display at City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco]

I know we said we’d stop tooting our horn and posting reviews and response to the Howl movie, but here’s just a few more, not-just-any-reviews, ones that really nail something intelligent down.

First up, a thoughtful one from Peter Simek in Dallas’ D magazine. Richard Nilson’s review in The Arizona Republic points out “the hero of the film isn’t Ginsberg, it’s the poem”. Wallace Baine’s review in the Santa Cruz Sentinel re-iterates the idea that – and what a remarkable thing this is – “Howl is all about the poem not the poet.” And one more, since Allen was a dutiful reader of the rag, here’s Sarah Selzer in The Nation.


Filed under Allen Ginsberg, D Magazine, Howl, James Franco, Jeffrey Friedman, Peter Simek, Richard Nelson, Rob Epstein, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Sarah Selzer, The Arizona Republic, The Nation, Wallace Baine

>NPR on Point with Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Freidman

>Great hour-long interview with Rob & Jeff from NPR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook.

Listen to this story

Beat Epic: Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”

We talk with the directors of a new film celebrating Allen Ginsberg’s epic beat generation poem “Howl.”

[A crowd listens to Allen Ginsberg give a reading of uncensored poetry at New York City’s Washington Square park, 1966. (AP)]

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Filed under Howl, Jeffrey Friedman, NPR, On Point, Rob Epstein, Tom Ashbrook

>Stanley Fish in New York Times on HOWL

>We woke up this morning to see this beautiful piece by Stanley Fish in the New York Times Blog. As our friend Ken Nielsen craftily put it “Stanley Fish’s thoughtful column on why HOWL is not only a movie about a text, but actually a movie becoming its own text about a text. It’s a performance of literary criticism.”

[Jack Manning/The New York Times]

Literary Criticism Comes to the Movies


There are movies based on literary works (“Paradise Lost” is on the way, I am told), bio-pics about literary greats (“Bright Star,” “The Hours”), movies that feature a bit of literary criticism (“Animal House,” “Dead Poets Society,” “The History Boys”), even movies — documentaries — about literary critics (Zizek and Derrida, who are only literary critics occasionally), but no movies I know of about literary criticism as such. None, that is, until “Howl,” the new movie about Allen Ginsberg starring James Franco, which is not only about literary criticism but is the performance of literary criticism, an extended “explication de texte.” Read full review>>

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Filed under Allen Ginsberg, Howl, Jeffrey Friedman, Ken Nielsen, New York Times, Rob Epstein, Stanley Fish

>Russell Morse: Howling from the Tombs

>New America Media, Commentary, Russell Morse, Posted: Oct 01, 2010

I recently attended a film screening of Howl on a rooftop in New York City’s Lower East Side, shivering and alone in a crowd of hundreds. As a fan of the poem, I approached the film adaptation with some ambivalence; and as a fan of the actor James Franco, I worried that his performance would miss the essential splendor of the goofy, unrequited lover that Allen Ginsberg was at the time he penned Howl. Read full story >>

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Filed under Allen Ginsberg, Howl, James Franco, Jeffrey Friedman, Rob Epstein, Russell Morse

>Bay Area Writers React to the Movie HOWL

>Great roundtable discussion on Howl after a Berkeley screening last weekend, with Brenda Knight, Suzi Olmsted, Marc Olmsted, Gerald Nicosia, Nick Mamatas, Seth Harwood, and hosted by East Bay Literary Examiner’s Tony R. Rodriguez. A lively conversation with fantastic insights all in all but we do have to note that we’re a bit perplexed with Nicosia’s allegation that Peter was ‘locked up in Vermont by some lawyer.’ It’s a little unclear how he’s so certain that that’s the case, since, as far as we know, he himself never spent any time up there in St.Johnsbury with Peter. So it goes…

Original 1955 Book Cover. Photo: City Lights Books

We all came from different parts of the Bay Area, each of us a writer with a keen interest in seeing the premiere of Howl, a film addressing the “obscenity trial” surrounding the controversial poetic offerings of Allen Ginsberg, one of the architects who helped launch what would later be called Beat Literature. Our rendezvous point was the Rialto Cinemas Elmwood in Berkeley, just near the lively corner of College and Ashby. At just about 4:15 on this recent Friday afternoon our small band of Bay Area writers snuggled ourselves inside this hospitable theater that many regard to be Berkeley’s finest cinematic venue. Gathered with eager smiles were: Seth Harwood, action writer of impressive talent, who authored Jack Wakes Up; Brenda Knight, poetry scholar and author of the exceptional book Women of the Beat Generation; Nick Mamatas, gifted neo-Beat writer of You Might Sleep …; Gerald Nicosia, Beat historian and acclaimed biographer of Jack Kerouac, who penned the most important life history on Kerouac with his book Memory Babe; Marc Olmsted, student of Allen Ginsberg and writer of What Use Am I a Hungry Ghost?, which contains an introduction by Ginsberg himself; and Marc’s wife, writer and artist Suzi Olmsted. Read full story >>

And, a glowing review in LA Times. Just the kind we like >>

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Filed under Brenda Knight, Eric Drooker, Gerald Nicosia, Howl, James Franco, Jeffrey Friedman, LA Times, Marc Olmsted, Nick Mamatas, Rob Epstein, Seth Harwood, Suzi Olmsted, Tony R. Rodriguez