For the most part, the Beat Generation doesn’t interest me. I tried reading Jack Kerouac’s book and found it dull and self-indulgent. I just wasn’t interested in his adventures with Neal Cassady and others. And I freely admit that very little poetry appeals to me that was written after, say, T.S. Eliot. But Allen Ginsberg is the exception. I can’t say I knew him, but I met him, during the Summer of Love in the Haight-Ashbury, when me and a friend of mine and a few dozen others sat around on the floor of an empty storefront on Stanyan Street, feasting on chicken-neck soup and listening to him play Indian chants on a hand organ. Later I read “Howl,” and it knocked me over. This is the true Beatnik masterpiece, in my opinion.
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix,
Made my skin crawl. Still does. It’s like he opened a vein and wrote it in his own blood. The movie version is a labor of love, and it’s very good. There is some biographical stuff, including his obscenity trial in San Francisco (which is howlingly funny and ridiculous) but the centerpiece here is James Franco as Ginsberg, reading the poem itself, in a reenactment of the first coffee-house reading ever. Sounds boring? No!!! It segues into beautiful hand-drawn animation, illustrating the madness of this work of genius amazingly well. This movie breaks all the molds. It’s not a documentary, though every word of the script is either something Ginsberg wrote or said, or taken directly from the trial transcript. It is a mind-blower, daddy-o!