1. Screen shot, James Franco as Allen Ginsberg. 2. Franco-philes Harris Solomon, Halimah Marcus, Mathias Black – all Brooklyn College MFA fiction students.
Monday night at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, his tour-de-force of a creative life landed him at a Brooklyn College-sponsored screening of the indie Allen Ginsberg bio-pic, Howl, two days before its official New York City Film Festival premiere. The place was packed with students, donors, faculty, Granta subscribers and other poetry nerds. Ginsberg stories were traded around like meatballs. And though 17 minutes late – “Sorry, I had class,” he quietly said, as he hopped on stage for a post-film Q&A – Franco fielded queries about everything from his feelings towards the poem, preparations for the film’s extensive monologues, the actor’s own endeavors into the writing life, and which of his multiple grad-school stopovers took the MFA prize. (Disclaimer: Franco graduated from Brooklyn’s MFA program last May.)
Wearing white sneakers and a faded red coat, Franco ran his hand through his wavy hair, shifted his seat, gulped a water, and confessed awe-slash-intimidation in the role. “[The directors] and I spent a year building Allen’s behaviors before filming,” he said during the forty minutes of crowd questions. “I’ve read Ginsberg, well, for quite a while.”
1. Cocktail partiers, who clinked wine glasses and ate spinach dip. 2. Over a hundred film goers waited in line before Howl doors opened.
Ginsberg is no stranger to Brooklyn College. While the Beat-legend cemented his name with the highly contentious poem, published in 1956 by San Francisco lit lion, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg ended his career on Bedford Ave, as a heralded member of the poetry faculty at BC. “Poems should be pouring out of them,” Ginsberg is to have said of students. (There may or may have not been a Howl-worthy anecdote recalled by a BC professor about Ginsberg blowing a guy who blew a guy who knew a guy somehow connected to Walt Whitman. We’re just saying.)
Post-flick, while attendees debated the film’s trippy use of jazz-fueled animation, what seemed consensus among the MFAers was the star actor’s strong delivery of the famous Six Gallery, spoken-word version of “Howl.” Franco’s Ginsberg lit up when the poet hit the stage. Unsurprising, as both actor and directors admitted the text to be the film’s true main character.
And, as to the question of why all those schools, James, why the grad degree roulette – He’s at Yale now - and which, of all the New York City MFA programs, truly beat the others? After running his hand through his hair, sighing, drinking water, he spoke. “Brooklyn writers, on the whole,” he said, “I’d say, let’s just say, they seemed to be stronger.” And the crowd approved. What didn’t he say? There’s a competing Lincoln Center Howl event at the end of the week – for Columbia.
–Taylor Bruce is an MFA student at Brooklyn College and comes from Alabama.