In 1957, a San Francisco Collector of Customs named Chester MacPhee made history by seizing a shipment of some 500 copies of a slim poetry book entitled, “Howl and other Poems.” The volume of verse, by unknown poet Allen Ginsberg was deemed by the government agent to be “obscene” – even though it contained no graphic images, only raw words detailing in vivid verse the stories of “the best minds of his generation” as they experienced and battled through drugs, sex, spirituality, insanity and death.
What resulted was a famous trial featuring some of America’s top literary voices, who stood up in defense of the work in a significant battle in the ongoing pursuit of Free Expression. The trial set the stage for the civil and social struggles of the 1960s, and serves to remind us of the importance of the fight against censorship that very much continues today.
A new film by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman brings this important story to the big screen. James Franco takes the lead as the young beat poet joined by Jon Hamm, David Strathairn, Treat Williams, Mary Louise Parker, Aaron Tveit and Jeff Daniels, in Howl, which opened the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah this week.