Friday, March 20, 2009

Howl

I kissed Allen Ginsberg. Once. Years ago. It was a wet, full-lipped, slightly scruffy kiss. And I'm sure it was quite different from kissing James Franco--who happens to be playing Allen in Gus Van Sant's upcoming film Howl.

This week, Howl is filming rather quietly on Hudson and around Greenwich Village. I passed the modest set and the flyers on the lightpoles, and assumed they were making a little indie film. And then I Googled it.


source: popsugar

I like James Franco, but I'm not sure how I feel about a super-hottie playing Allen Ginsberg. Even the 1957 Allen, which is when the film takes place, was no heartthrob. He was an average-looking, queer Jewish nerd, with chunky glasses and already thinning hair. Not unattractive, but not a pretty boy. Peter Orlovsky was the pretty one.

And while Franco is working on his MFA at Columbia (dozing in class) and recently sold a book of short fiction to Scribner, he just doesn't say "queer, balding, nerdy, Jewish poet" to me. He's James Dean only skinnier. He's Marlon Brando crossed with Jeff Spicoli.

I liked David Cross as Ginsberg. He embodied Allen's enthusiastic goofiness, his big-lipped, expansive way of speaking with wide eyes and twitching shoulders. Allen didn't need to be a super-hottie hipster to write Howl or to bed the boys. New York and its denizens weren't always the pretty ones. They just were.


1957: photo by Harold Chapman

I'm being picky. I guess I just miss Allen. I used to run into him at Prana Foods on First Avenue, rummaging through the bins of bruised vegetables. You might have seen him in one of the Polish and Ukrainian joints, in Kiev or the B&H. You never knew where, but he was around.

That's how it used to be, running into these literary legends. Now it's the movies.

And don't get me wrong, I do love the movies. I'm actually looking forward to this one. I like Franco, and Van Sant's work, and Howl will feature animation segments by Eric Drooker, the Lower East Side's graphic artist of lefty life. So it can't be too bad. I just hope Franco gets it right.

20 comments:

EV Grieve said...

Franco did play James Dean in the TV mini-series in 2001...even got an Emmy nomination. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0240628

Anyway, I don't mind Franco either... thought that he handled his role in "Milk" credibly enough.

I'll remain hopeful on this project.

Jeremiah Moss said...

he's good when he chooses good parts, so there is reason to hope. loved him in freaks and geeks.

here, he reminds me of the girl in those teen makeover movies, the nerd who is gorgeous all along, she's just wearing glasses and needs some hair mousse. and voila!

Carol Gardens said...

I used to see Ginsberg at Odessa. He always seemed to have scrambled eggs in his beard. I know people say he was a vegetarian, but I don't think he was all that consistent. I agree that the casting is weird. Well, you will be able to compare two Ginsbergs since Jesse Eisenberg will play him in KILL YOU DARLINGS:

http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118001281.html

PS: I used to see Herbert Huncke all the time when I lived in the 20s since he went to the methadone clinic around the corner.

Ken Mac said...

i like him in that Deniro movie shot in Asbury Park too...

Michael said...

I'll take Jack Kerouac, please.

BaHa said...

Prana: Remember trying to get the right amount of honey or maple syrup without getting it all over yourself--or the floor? And the cashiers, who never seemed all that healthy? The buckled floor? Damn, didn't realize how much I missed it.

Jeremiah Moss said...

yes, prana foods: dirty, messy, filled with cats--loved it.

Mark said...

Franco is just too, too pretty to play Allen successfully. If Franco is Allen, who's on hand to play Jack Kerouac? Jake Gyllenhall?

Why must our history be prettified? It was pretty fabulous as it was...why must it be deconstructed to the lowest common denominators of sex and beauty?

I use to see Allen fairly often at the Ninth Circle on 10th Street, way back in 1973. He was always checking the boys out! And then of course, when I moved to 12th Street in 1977, I'd see him regularly.

Mykola Dementiuk said...

I used to see Ginsberg eating at Chinese restaurant on 13th Street and 1st. Next thing I knew I knew there was a religious wake for him at St. Marks church on 2nd Avenue. Thought he was gonna live for ever in the neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm the only one who thought of Jemaine from "The Flight of the Concords" when I saw the vintage Ginsberg photo.

abfrancophile said...

I really enjoyed reading your comments here and hope you won't mind that I add or clarify a few details, and post a link on Twitter? True, James Franco is playing Allen Ginsberg as a young man in HOWL, which is about the obscenity trial that followed the publication of that now-famous poem. I've heard that other cast members include David Strathairn, Alan Alda, Jeff Daniels, Mary-Louise Parker and Paul Rudd (not sure if Kerouac has a presence here). Van Sant is Exec Prod, and filmmakers are Telling Pictures documentarians Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (The Life and Times of Harvey Milk). This looks like a winner to me! Oh, and in addition to the Emmy nom, JF actually WON a Golden Globe for his portrayal of James Dean. And it shouldn't come as any surprise that he's pubbing a book; he is surrounded by literati (mom is published poet/childrens book author, girlfriend is from prominent publishing family). Stay tuned with 24/7 updates by following www.Twitter.com/JamesFrancoNews

Anonymous said...

Agree about Jermaine from "Flight of the Conchords" although it is mostly the glasses. Also Mark Ruffalo if he had less hair:
http://www.imdb.com/media/rm2207881472/nm0749263

Bowery Boogie said...

i think he will do a good job. he's a good actor. it's the script i'm worried about!

chris flash said...

I saw Allen Ginsberg around the LES a lot before interacting with him in Tompkins Square Park after the 1988 riot. Laying on the grass in the park, he suggested to me that the SHADOW describe cops as "aspiring buddhas" rather than call them "pigs", as we usually did. He told me that if described them as pigs, they would feel justified in their violent behavior, whereas, as aspiring buddhas, they would act appropriately.

Gena said...

About a decade ago, I was in my college's English department office, dealing with some ridiculous bureacracy problem, and a man was standing next to me. He was short, dressed in a suit and tie; I thought he was Hasidic. Then the secretary called out his name. "Hello, Mr. Ginsberg." I was shocked. Looked nothing like the pot-smoking liberal you would think he'd look like. I like David Cross as Ginsberg too. Or that guy from "Sideways." What was his name again?

Anonymous said...

I do love James Franco, and I've been following his career since Freaks and Geeks. Of course, he was perfect for James Dean - moodily aware of his physical beauty and inherently uncomfortable about it. I went to Stuyvesant HS and was part of a group that arranged for Allen Ginsberg to come to read at our school - heavily identified as a Writer at the time, I was deeply disappointed when he was more interested in flirting with my boyfriend than talking to me. Of course, we were hoping for Howl, but were instead lead through a silent meditation in the library.

God, I love Allen Ginsberg.

Here's why James Franco is wrong for the part: he's too damn hot. Allen Ginsberg is the desirer, the pursuer, the lover. James Franco is the object, the desired, the beloved. It's as if the role was cast with Ginsberg's ideal trick.

I would have voted for Mark Ruffalo - who is desirable, but not James Dean.

Anonymous said...

Aspiring buddhas- how beautiful, how Allen, Chris Flash! I used to see Allen all over the EV- I miss him very much. And Quentin Crisp.
Prana- still can't believe it's not there anymore- remember carob-covered rice cakes? Yum!

Anonymous said...

James Franco is Jewish, actually, on his mother's side.

Derrick Kardos said...

I was kissed by John Waters once. I helped Quentin Crisp cross the street once. I ran into Joan Jett once (literally.. by mistake.. Across from that dyke bar that used to be on Houston and a).
I miss the east village alot.

laura r. said...

i was @ a small gathering @ allens apt. around 1965 or '66. there was circle of people sitting on the floor smoking hashish (all men as i recall). had no idea where i was but i reconized allen as i had seen him around. (the boyfriend w/the long hair was there too). had no idea this person was famous, or even what his name was. there's a 27 minute reading of "howl" on youtube, no visual just black screen. brilliant piece. he was terrific w/spoken word.