24 September 2010

‘Howl’: Allen Ginsberg or James Franco?

The Renaissance man, limiting himself here
to the mere depiction of writing.
Personally, I found him more plausible as James Dean.

Several years ago, I was eating breakfast in a coffee shop in New York’s East Village when I realized that an older man was looking at me intently. This was not the gaze that said, “Hey, kid, you’ve got spinach on your teeth,” or “Where did you get that awful shirt?” No, this was the gaze that said, “Come away with me, beautiful youth! Inspire me, thrill me, make me your lover for an hour or a day, and I shall write a poem about you — or else give you fifty bucks and cab fare. It’s your call.”

Well, he got the “youth” part right, though he overestimated me in all the rest. But if the poet Allen Ginsberg looked anything like the actor James Franco (who portrays him in the new movie, Howl, opening this weekend), then my story might have ended differently.

The real-life Ginsberg, photographed in 1985,
the very year he cruised me on 2nd Avenue.

As it happened, however, I merely paid the check, went back to the table where my girlfriend was waiting, and went on with my life. Flattering (and almost unprecedented) though it was in those days for me to be checked out by anyone at all, to say nothing of a famous writer, I wasn’t even tempted to stray. So much for my shot at immortality.

Honestly, if you wanted to cast an Apatow actor as Ginsberg, you’d start with Seth Rogen and go no further. So it’s with a dose of skepticism that I’ll approach the theater where Howl is playing.

However, I’m always interested to see what James Franco does. He’s an awfully good actor, and (as a New York Times profile has confirmed) he’s consciously sought more interesting projects in recent years. If he ever plays another comic-book villain, I suspect it will be part of some elaborate prank on the rest of us.

Beyond that, I admire his questing mind and the way in which he’s turned, almost overnight, from college dropout to the man with the most graduate degrees in America. And while I haven’t yet sampled any of his writing or artwork, I appreciate his playful spirit.

Unlike most hotshot Hollywood actors, he really doesn’t seem to take himself, or much of anything else, too seriously. And who knows? Some day he may wind up creating art that we can take seriously.

That said, I’d rather be James Franco’s audience than his friend. With all the projects and interests and outlets this man pursues, how exhausting it must be to hang out with him!

Even Franco’s colleagues can’t keep up with him.
But my Ginsberg karma is gonna get me any day now.


Lincoln Madison said...

James Franco came to the world premiere of Howl at the Castro Theatre back in June. One of the things he mentioned is that, as a teen, he would often make the drive up from Palo Alto to North Beach to wander the haunts of the Beat Poets.

William V. Madison said...

Fascinating. We like an actor who prepares for a role.

Xenan said...

C'est marrant que vous parliez de "Howl" parce que c'est un des films que j'attend avec impatience de voir. Je suis l'actualité de l'acteur James Franco (que j'ai découvert grâce aux films "Spiderman"), je suis sûr qu'il sera très bon dans le rôle d'Allen Ginsberg. Il me semble que nous ne connaissons toujours pas la date de sortie du film malheureusement...

William V. Madison said...

Effectivement, Xenan, il n'y a pas de date de sortie en France indiquée sur le site Cinemovies.fr. Mais les critiques américaines chantaient les éloges de James Franco (et du film, plus ou moins), donc je suis sûr que le jour viendra. Après tout, Julie & Julia est sorti ici, en dépit du fait que Julia Child est peu connue en France.

Xenan said...

Croisons les doigts !

William V. Madison said...

Je triche, moi -- je verrai le film aux USA (et bientôt, sans doute).

Xenan said...

Ah c'est pas juste ! A moins que vous vouliez m'emporter avec vous dans votre valise ! (rire)

William V. Madison said...

Hélas, la volonté n'est pas le pouvoir!