When James Franco co-hosts the Oscars this weekend, it won't be as the bespectacled poet Allen Ginsberg he so lovingly portrayed in the movie Howl. Of course, Franco may win the Best Actor Oscar for his work in 127 Hours, but his Ginsberg is spot on.
The multi-talented Franco has good taste in poets, currently immersed in projects involving American literary giants Harte Crane (the Bridge) and William Faulkner (The Sound and the Fury). And Allen Ginsberg had good vision: even before Warhol made fame famous, the poet understood fame's power as a marketing tool. He may remain the most famous poet of the Beat Generation literati, but even till the time of his death in 1997, he worked diligently, championing his close associates, Kerouac, Burroughs, Corso, Micheline, Huncke, Whalen, etc. so that they too would be known. Who wants to be the sole famed figure in his coterie, he would say.
Now Allen Ginsberg seems to be everywhere: Witness his moving (literally in motion) portrait on the 6th floor of MoMA, in a fine show featuring Andy Warhol's screen tests. In perfect synergy, his face looms large with those of Dennis Hopper, Edie Sedgwick, and others. James Franco's excellent performance is freshly available on the Howl DVD, along with an audio feature, Franco reading Howl.
And, an exhibition of Ginsberg's photography-yes he was a visual artist too -- is displayed at the Howard Greenberg Gallery. A handsome book, Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg, accompanies the show. While it is not the first collection of the poet's photos, the book includes many well-known pictures -- i.e. Kerouac smoking on a fire escape -- as well as lesser known Robert Frank, Peter Orlovsky, and New York back alley takes. A distinct feature of Ginsberg's work is the hand scrawled caption situating those he shot in the historic moment.
Recently, the yearly reading of "Howl" at Columbia University with music by David Amram attracted crowds to that institution's Philosophy Hall. An irony was not missed: in his days at Columbia he represented rebellious youth, and now more than a decade dead, he is revered as the poet of our time.
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