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“Speech is Not Free: 60th Anniversary Dinner Party in Celebration of ‘Howl.'” – A Review!

There we were. Mildly buzzed on wine and savory chicken, courtesy of Carmel’s Grapes of Wrath, nestled on the Library grounds with 100 or so of our closest friends. It was to be a night of poetry, movies, music, and a bit more wine.

“Speech is Not Free: 60th Anniversary Dinner Party in Celebration of ‘Howl'” did not disappoint.

There were many highlights, but for the sake of brevity, here are three. First off, the inimitable Anne Waldman, one of our most important poets across the last fifty years. Accompanied by her son, Ambrose Bye, she captivated the crowd with a sonorous, musical, and rhythmic reading style that transported the work into a Ginsbergian trace-like space.

Alas, we don’t have any footage of her performance, but check out this video of Anne performing her Anthropocene Blues, which was also performed at the event.

Then we had Maria Garcia Teutsch.  Maria is a poet, a teacher, the editor of Ping Pong, the President of the Library’s board — the list goes on!

Maria read from her new chapbook The Revolution Will Have Its Sky, which you can purchase HERE.  A compelling conceptual piece, the book comprisesrevolution cover of poems — character sketches, if you will — of various players involved in some sort of undefined revolution. We meet The Girl, The Executioner, The Thief, and so on. War…sex…intrigue…The end result was a vibrant, surreal landscape of mysterious individuals and their intentions. (And that’s not the wine talking!)

Then there was the main event: a screening of the film “Howl,” staring James Franco.  

Much like the recent films about Kerouac novels, specifically “Big Sur” and “On the Road,” it can be quite difficult, theoretically speaking, to create a film based wholly on a work such as Howl.

Why? For starters, it’s iconic. It’s legacy and impact is etched in our consciousness, so any attempt to dramatize it that doesn’t match our personal interpretation feels weird, foreign. (It’s the reason why I refuse to see the movie adaptation of “Cloud Atlas.” Or “Transformers 5: Age of Ultron” for that matter.)

Then there’s the obvious fact that unlike “On the Road,” “Howl” is, of course, a poem. Who makes a movie about a poem? Have you ever seen a movie about a poem?

I haven’t.

Thankfully, the brains behind the film—”Howl” was written and directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman—were hip to these challenge. And they successfully addressed them in two important ways. First, they stayed out of the way. They let Ginsberg speak for himself. All of the dialogue in the film came from interviews with Ginsberg directly, transcripts from the obscenity trial, and so forth.

Second, by letting Ginsberg tell the story, the film naturally framed the poem within the overall cultural landscape at the time. We see how, quite obviously, the poem didn’t suddenly appear out of nowhere; it was a reaction to the social, cultural, and sexual mores in Eisenhower America.

We loved it!  Check out the trailer here!