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.
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.