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James Franco Channels Allen Ginsberg in the Sundance Opener ‘Howl’

James Franco stars as Alan Ginsberg in the 2010 Sundance Film Festival opener ‘Howl.’

Sundance Institute

A packed house for one the Sundance Film Festival’s openers, Howl, gave John Cooper a rousing wave of applause as he announced, “I’m John Cooper, director of the Sundance Film Festival. How did that happen?”

Begun as a doc with funds from the Sundance Institute, Howl‘s directors, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, made the risky decision to switch course. “It just wasn’t working so we needed to do something bold,” said Friedman. They reconceived the project as a narrative and Sundance followed suit by granting the filmmakers funds from their narrative arm.

After the screening, James Franco said he built his portrayal of Allen Ginsberg from a disparate collection of sources, since there wasn’t much footage of Ginsberg in his youth: “Though it has no sync sound, I watched Robert Frank’s Pull My Daisy for Ginsburg’s mannerisms and gestures.”

For Ginsburg’s voice, Franco said he walked the streets of New York listening to audio recordings of the poet reciting Howl, while Franco read along with him. The homework paid off. In attendance was Jerry Aronson, director of the award-winning doc The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg, who went out of his way to praise Franco’s performance.


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