Allen Ginsberg Didn’t Say That

A Conversation on the Film 'Howl'

by C.E. McAuley

3 May 2011


Jonah Raskin: So, there’s his mother, there’s his father, there’s Jack Kerouac, there’s Neil Cassady, there’s Ferlinghetti. Ferlinghetti’s like the only person who’s still alive. The only thing that he does in the movie is that he smiles at one point, he’s the bird that comes in and he smiles right?

Aimee Drew: Does he have any lines?

C.E. McAuley: He doesn’t actually speak in the film—

Jonah Raskin: He has no lines, he’s the only person who’s still alive— doesn’t have any speaking lines, it’s just… 

C.E. McAuley: Well, there was sort of a, I don’t know, a disconnectivity, I think, at some level to the film between the relationships of the people. It seemed like, to me. Because it didn’t, it talked about relationships, but it didn’t actually really go into the relationships, which was a major part of the Beat generation, which were these key relationships. What do you make of that?

Jonah Raskin: Well, yeah, well I would say that these people, the people who made the movie— who by their last names, it seemed like Epstein and Freidman, sound like Jewish names.

C.E. McAuley: Right.

Jonah Raskin: And Allen Ginsberg was Jewish, but there isn’t really anything explicitly Jewish about him, so I mean. He sort of looks Jewish I suppose, but could have passed me for an Italian or Turkish or something…

C.E. McAuley: You mean James Franco or Allen Ginsberg?

Jonah Raskin: James Franco. The actor.
C.E. McAuley: Yeah.

Jonah Raskin: So, they kinda left out the Jewish part. Didn’t they?

C.E. McAuley: Well, there was nothing, I mean —that— when they read lines from the poem there were references to Judaism in the poem.

Jonah Raskin: Ahh, yeah.

C.E. McAuley: That was about it.

Jonah Raskin: Yeah.

C.E. McAuley: They also seemed to dwell on certain aspects of the poem.

Jonah Raskin: Really?

C.E. McAuley: I mean you would hear it, then they would repeat it.

Aimee Drew: Yeah, there were some references… in like the coffee houses

C.E. McAuley: Yeah…

Aimee Drew: With the animation… 

Jonah Raskin: So what is your— how did you get connected to Allen Ginsberg, Aimee (to Aimee)?

Aimee Drew: Oh I haven’t the slightest idea. Um, probably my parents I would imagine. I guess my dad. I know my parents had a whole lot of books that weren’t exactly appropriate for kids just lying around the house when I was growing up, when I would pick them up and read them.

Jonah Raskin: Yeah. Ok.

Aimee Drew: I honestly don’t remember the first time I read Howl, but it’s always been something that I really appreciated.

C.E. McAuley: Why is it significant to you?

Aimee Drew: I have no clue. Why are you interviewing me?

C.E. McAuley: Well, we’re having a conversation.

Aimee Drew: It is a round table, a square table.

Jonah Raskin: Is this off the record? Are you writing…

C.E. McAuley: No, this is all on the record. Everything is on the record.

Aimee Drew: Nothing is off the record ever. Ever. 

Jonah Raskin: We just gotta establish the ground rules here.

C.E. McAuley: Well, that’s true. Well, we’ve established that everyone’s being recorded here and everyone has permission.

Aimee Drew: My mother’s recorders…

C.E. McAuley: Yes, thank you Aimee. Hey, this is a good salad. I think Allen Ginsberg would approve of this, but I’m still waiting to hear how…

Aimee Drew: Oh yes. Why I like it?

C.E. McAuley: Well, what does it mean to you?

Rothtana Ouch: Have you read the whole thing?

Aimee Drew: I tried to memorize it.

Rothtana Ouch: Oh my God.

Aimee Drew: Nearly killed myself doing it.

C.E. McAuley: Aimee can quote from it.

Rothtana Ouch: I didn’t know that.

Aimee Drew: Oh I did on Facebook.

Jonah Raskin: That’s ambitious.

Aimee Drew: Yeah, I don’t know why. I memorized The Jabberwocky when I was like seven, the Lewis Carroll poem. Just because I wanted to and I was like ‘Oh I can do it…

C.E. McAuley: Perhaps you’re a prodigy.

Aimee Drew: I doubt that. If I had been a prodigy I could have memorized the whole thing.

C.E. McAuley: Hmmm. So your greatest gift is avoiding answers…

Aimee Drew: Is avoiding answers, yes.

Jonah Raskin: Well, I would say, you see, Aimee doesn’t really have to say anything else.

C.E. McAuley: She doesn’t have to.

Jonah Raskin: Well what I mean, we can just interpret what she said. I would say the significance of it is that people read it when they are teenagers or adolescents and they know that it’s a poem or book that they’re not supposed to read and so, it’s sort of like, it’s a view into some sort of like— you have to read it when you’re a teenager. And just reading it, it’s like you’re initiated into some kind of subculture or something, your initiated into something.

Aimee Drew: Mm—Hm. Even if you don’t completely understand what he’s saying, and I don’t know if I necessarily do. I know he’s saying something and I know it’s important.

Jonah Raskin: Well that’s exactly…

C.E. McAuley: There you have it.

Jonah Raskin: I have friends who are fifty years old and they say ‘I don’t know …

Aimee Drew: Yeah, I didn’t live in the same world that Allen Ginsberg did when he wrote Howl. So I can’t experience it to the same degree that he was when he wrote it.

C.E. McAuley: I first read it when I was 18 or 19 or 20, when I was at the junior college and I had read, I think Bukowski first and was getting into the main Beats of the Beat canon and what appealed to me was that it seemed to me like a critique of everything and a call for liberation from all the constraints of society and a call to be real. That’s what it meant to me when I read it. You know, and then if you look at the whole— I mean, I’d love to see a film in addition to this one, that tells the whole story of the Beats and their relationships, because when I first saw the movie I thought ‘Well this seems like a parody of reality.’

Rothtana Ouch: Oh you saw it already?

C.E. McAuley: No, I mean when I saw this film tonight.

Rothtana Ouch: Oh ok.

C.E. McAuley: Um, I was just happy they got the projector working. You know, Ferlinghetti didn’t say anything.

Jonah Raskin: I would say that James Franco was kind of like a parody of Allen Ginsberg.

C.E. McAuley: That’s how it felt to me. And I like James Franco, but the portrayal seemed like a parody to me. For instance, in the opening credits with the jazz stuff, even though Allen Ginsberg makes jazz references in the poem, it just seemed to me almost like a— and I don’t know if that’s the influence of Gus van Sant who was one of the producers— but I don’t know, it seemed to me almost, I don’t know. When something is translated into film that almost can’t be translated into film, like was the movie about just the trial or was it about Allen Ginsberg or was it about the poem?

Rothtana Ouch: Or what was the movie about?

C.E. McAuley: Or— yeah what was it about? I mean, what was the focus of it?

Aimee Drew: I mean, it seemed like it was trying too hard to be too many things at once. Maybe.

Rothtana Ouch: Yeah.

C.E. McAuley: What do you make of that?

Jonah Raskin: I think it was trying, yeah, they wanted to make a movie about Allen Ginsberg and they couldn’t really figure out what the focus of the story was so they put everything in it.

Aimee Drew/Rothtana Ouch: Yeah.

Aimee Drew: They just threw everything and everybody into it.

C.E. McAuley: In your book, American Scream, it focuses on the creation of Howl, what went into it, and then what came after it. So how does this film reflect the reality of your book?

Jonah Raskin: Well it does have that same, where he sits down at the typewriter and he just starts typing the poem. Which isn’t really, it’s not really what happens. And the way the it just sort of rearranges everything do you don’t find out, he doesn’t talk about being in therapy until later on. Like this Doctor Hicks. So he’s writing, he was actually writing Howl when he was in therapy in San Francisco and therapy enabled him to have a sort of breakthrough.

C.E. McAuley: And they never do show who’s interviewing him either.

Rothtana Ouch: Yeah, I was kinda— I felt like we were interviewing him sort of when he was like— yeah, I mean with the interviewer and interviewee… 

Aimee Drew: Yeah and they didn’t say what it was for…

Rothtana Ouch: That was kinda weird.

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