by Rob Epstein
In San Francisco, 1957, an American masterpiece was put on trial. HOWL is a feature film about this pivotal moment in the birth of the counter-culture. The story is told primarily through three interweaving threads: the trial; re-enactments with the young Allen Ginsberg (James Franco); and the poem itself, animated by graphic novelist and Ginsberg collaborator Eric Drooker as a Beat Fantasia, scored by Carter Burwell. The genre-expanding form of the film echoes the startling originality of the poem itself.
The re-enacted trial is the narrative spine of the film, playing out themes that are still resonant today: definitions of obscenity, the limits of free expression and the nature of art. The defense attorney is Jake Ehrlich (Jon Hamm), a celebrity civil liberties lawyer. Prosecuting attorney Ralph McIntosh (David Strathairn) tries to prove that the work is obscene, while struggling to understand it. Prosecution witnesses are an English teacher (Mary-Louise Parker) who finds the poem obscene; and a professor (Jeff Daniels) who has a very definite idea of what is and isn't good writing. Defense witnesses are 50s intellectuals (Treat Williams, Alessandro Nivola) who speak to the poem's cultural and artistic merits. The conservative presiding judge is Clayton Horn (Bob Balaban), who delivers a surprisingly impassioned decision.
In an imagined interview with flashbacks, the young Ginsberg muses on his own creative process and the personal struggle and liberation he had to go through. The poem itself lives as vibrant animation -- an imagined journey inside the mind of the artist.
Legends in the field of documentary film, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (Directors, Writers and Producers) are among the most honored Directors, Writers and Producers of nonfiction film, receiving between them two Academy Awards, multiple Emmy Awards, three Peabody Awards and a Guggenheim Fellowship. In support of their work on HOWL, they have been awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship and a Sundance Documentary Fund Grant.
Partners in »Telling Pictures«, the production company they founded in 1987, they have produced and directed numerous hours and short segments for national broadcast on HBO, NBC, MSNBC and PBS, in addition to their celebrated feature documentaries: »Paragraph 175« (2000), narrated by Rupert Everett, about the Nazi persecution of homosexuals. (U.S. premiere: Sundance Film Festival, Documentary Jury Prize for Directing. European premiere: Berlin Interna¬tional Film Festival, FIPRESCI Award from the International Federation of Film Critics. Co-production with HBO and Channel 4.); »The Cellloid Closet« (1995), narrated by Lily Tomlin, a hundred-year history of gay and lesbian characters in Hollywood movies, featuring interviews with Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon, Whoopi Goldberg, Shirley MacLaine, Tony Curtis, Gore Vidal, Arthur Laurents, Paul Rudnick, John Schlesinger and others (Sundance Film Festival, Freedom of Expression Award. Peabody Award, DuPont-Columbia Award, Emmy Award for directing. Co-production HBO, ZDF-Arte and Channel 4); »Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt« (1989), narrated by Dustin Hoffman, about the first decade of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S. and the government's failure to respond (Premiere: Berlin Film Festival, Interjury Award. Academy Award, Best Documentary Feature, Peabody Award, Emmy Award for original score by Bobby McFerrin.)
Before Telling Pictures, Rob made »The Times of Harvey Milk« (1984), narrated by Harvey Fierstein, about the assassination of California's first openly gay elected official. Sundance Film Festival, Special Jury Prize, New York Film Critics Circle Award, Best Non-Fiction Film, Academy Award®, Best Documentary Feature, Peabody Award, three Emmy Awards. Named by American Film Magazine critics' poll as one of the best documentaries of the decade; chosen by the UCLA Film & Television archive for restoration and preservation. The Criterion Collection will be releasing an edition of the film in 2010.
Rob began his career as co-director of »Word is out«, the landmark documentary released in 1977. In 2008, he was awarded the International Documentary Associations (IDA) Pioneer Award for career achievement.
Rob and Jeffrey's films have been released theatrically and on home video in the U.S. by Sony Pictures Classics, Columbia Tri-Star and New Yorker Films. The films are represented internationally by Jan Ro¬fekamp of Films Transit.
Jeffrey began his career in the editing room of such landmark films as »Raging Bull« and »The Exorcist«. He has taught in the graduate program at Stanford University and at California College of the Arts. Rob has taught in the graduate film program at Tisch School for the Arts at New York University, and is currently chair of the Film Program at California College of the Arts. They are both members of the Directors Guild, as well as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for which Rob also currently serves on the Board of Governors.
Career retrospectives of Epstein and Friedman's work have recently been held at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London and at the Taipei International Film Festival in Taiwan, China.
James Franco - Allen Ginsberg
Todd Rotondi - Jack Kerouac
Jon Prescott - Neal Cassady
Aaron Tveit - Peter Orlovsky
David Strathairn - Ralph McIntosh
Jon Hamm - Jake Ehrlich
Andrew Rogers - Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Bob Balaban - Judge Clayton Horn
Mary-Louise Parker - Gail Potter
Heather Klar - Jack's Girlfriend
Kadance Frank - Allen's Girlfriend
Treat Williams - Mark Schorer
Joe Toronto - Sailor
Johary Ramos - Hustler
Nancy Spence - Neal's Girlfriend
Alesandro Nivola - Luther Nichols
Jeff Daniels - David Kirk
Allen Ginsberg Himself - Allen Ginsberg
Credits not contractual.
Written for the Screen and Directed by: Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman
Produced by: Elizabeth Redleaf, Christine Kunewa Walker, Rob Epstein,Jeffrey Friedman
Executive Producers: Gus Van Sant, Jawal Nga
Co-Producers: Brian Benson, Andrew Peterson, Mark Steele
Director of Photography: Edward Lachman, ASC
Production Designer: Thérèse DePrez
Editor: Jake Pushinsky
Costume Designers: Kurt and Bart
Music by: Carter Burwell
Music Supervisor: Hal Willner
Animation Designed by: Eric Drooker
Animation Producer: John Hays
Credits not contractual.
Format: 35mm / 24fps / 1:1,85 / Colour / Dolby Digital
Length: ca 90 min.
Original Language: English
Original title: Howl