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Film about 20th-century poet Allen Ginsberg to screen

RELEASED: Sept. 15, 2011

Howl

EAU CLAIRE — "Howl" (2010) — the story of a groundbreaking work of poetry that was the subject of a landmark obscenity trial — will screen Sept. 29-Oct. 2 at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. The University Activities Commission of the Student Senate will present the film at 6 and 8:30 p.m. in Davies Theatre.

"Not quite a biopic, not really a documentary and only loosely an adaptation, 'Howl' does something that sounds simple until you consider how rarely it occurs in films of any kind," wrote The New York Times. "It takes a familiar, celebrated piece of writing and makes it come alive."

James Franco stars as the young Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), poet, counter-culture adventurer and chronicler of the Beat Generation. In his famously confessional, leave-nothing-out style, Ginsberg recounts the road trips, love affairs and search for personal liberation that led to his writing "Howl," the 29-year-old poet's first published poem and his most timeless work.

In 1955 Ginsberg first read "Howl" publicly, and it broke open the floodgates of American literature. In a time characterized by conformity and intolerance, it was an exuberant call to self-liberation for many. The film recreates Ginsberg's first reading; the narrative is interwoven with animation (inspired by "Illuminated Poems" by Ginsberg and Eric Drooker) that gives an imaginative ride through the visionary work.

By early 1957, "Howl" and its publisher were on trial for obscenity. David Strathairn portrays San Francisco prosecutor Ralph McIntosh, who argued the work should be banned. Jon Hamm plays Ginsberg's attorney, Jake Ehrlich, who was driven by his belief in the right to free expression.

"The obscenity trial for 'Howl' was just amazing because it had these moments that were so strange and loony," said Bob Balaban, who plays Judge Clayton Horn. "You can't believe some of these things were actually said."

The Washington Post called the film "a quietly affecting portrait of a poet desperately trying to free himself from societal shame and familial constraints to find his own authentic voice. Franco gives generous, compassionate life to that struggle, but the high point of the movie is his deeply moving reading of 'Howl' itself. As the camera pans Ginsberg's gobsmacked audience, what could have been a trivial exercise in nostalgia instead becomes a powerful case for the cathartic power of art."

Written and directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman ("The Times of Harvey Milk," "The Celluloid Closet"), the 84-minute film is rated R for strong sexual content, including language and images, and for some drug material.

Admission is free at the door with a Blugold Card or International Film Society membership. Community members who wish to attend campus films can purchase an annual IFS membership at the Service Center (715-836-3727) in Davies Center's east lobby. An individual membership costs $4, and a family membership is $10.

More information about the campus film series is available online and at the Activities, Involvement and Leadership office, Davies Center 133.

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JS/DW

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