Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Rolling down Duval street, confronting cars that want to eat me with bits of legs and shoes that march towards me, while sitting motionless in the spinning top of my chair, I think of Allen Ginsberg. I once saw him at the Miami Book Fair, in 1990. I was shy but exhilarated. I rolled to him like a spun coil. Such is the way I move. He was very approachable: a poetic Grandpa of America with spinning eyes who patted me on the head. A Santa Claus of stanzas. Bringing this memory with me into the dark, I watched "Howl" excitedly, my tense body held in place with a spastic apprehension.
As Allen Ginsberg, James Franco has a conjurer's gift in grasping Ginsberg's unique lazy but leaping manner of speaking. The best episodes are of Franco himself in his chameleon incarnation of Ginsberg. Franco's Ginsberg is organic and natural, swimming in smoke, lasciviously excited by his own action, interested and nonchalant. In his apartment with a recorder, Ginsberg recounts his life, analyzing and imagining as if he, and perhaps both Ginsberg and James Franco, are their own best poems. Franco makes the simulation effortless. It is not so much an imitation but an improvisation. Franco brings both Ginsberg and himself into the role.
Interspersed with these live action scenes are segments of animation, inspired by the poem "Howl" which are startling and stand alone as visual haiku. As stanzas from "Howl" are read by Franco, Art Deco images bend and twist upon the other, sometimes recalling Edward Hopper, Marc Chagall or Dali, each segment gives a novel and lively personification to the poem---a kind of Ginsberg Fantasia.
The obscenity trial sequences, although novel, seemed dwarfed by Ginsberg's playful anecdotes of his sexual and intellectual desire for Kerouac and his romping with Neal Cassady. Perhaps this is the point. "Howl" as a sensory epic of nocturnal pleasures and pains, an adventure story of Ginsberg's mental metropolis had no place in literature's criminal court. The poem is a wild beast of the wilderness.
And although the end of the film "Howl" mimics the Lennon picture "Nowhere Boy" with its self evident nostalgia and time capsule photos, watching James Franco is a Joy.
I witnessed Ginsberg return to his sunflower.
Write to Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org