Epstein and Friedman didn't write the film as much as assemble it, using actual interview quotes and court transcripts. And while the loose structure takes some getting used to, it's ultimately effective and at times thrilling.
It's well-crafted, but I wish the film showed us an additional dimension or two of the central figure, who once said the great challenge in writing, any kind of writing, is "to write the same way you are."
By the time this movie's over, you've spent an hour and a half just working your way through the words of "Howl" and some related source material, and that turns out to be a surprisingly satisfying thing to do.
Allen Ginsberg's revolutionary 1956 poem ''Howl'' -- a literary manifesto for the Beat Generation -- gets a great reading from modern-day beatnik-star James Franco, playing the poet with bebop passion.
There is no defining story of lasting importance here, so the directors opted for a small narrative, a lot of drawings and snippets of the trial. It's filled with graphics, but doesn't really amount to much of a film or an illumination of the man's life.
Splendid as Franco's literal characterization and overheated line readings can be, art director Eric Drooker's literal-minded animated interpretation of "Howl" are as sodden as a cold latke -- as well as a distraction.
The filmmakers don't get everything right but their passion for Ginsberg's genius and their excitement over trying to deconstruction a literary master work is contagious. A more perfect film might have been just a teensy-weensy dull.