Most biopics or films based on real events take judicious liberties with the subjects and incidents they are portraying for dramatic or comedic effect, the makers of Howl instead stuck strictly to the source material. And for good reason as the film focuses on both one of the most dramatic pieces of poetry to come out of the 20th century, but also the controversy surrounding its publication in 1956. The publisher of the work, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Books, was brought to trial on obscenity charges after 500+ copies of the book coming in to the country from the printers were seized.
Rob Epstein and Jeffery Friedman, co-directors of Howl who are also responsible for the peerless documentaries The Times Of Harvey Milk and The Celluloid Closet, take a non-fiction approach to bringing the poem and the trial to screen. They use actors for all the parts in the film, most notably James Franco who embodies the voice and diction of the late Allen Ginsberg, but all the dialog is taken from transcripts of the trial, and an interview with the poet from the same year.