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On The Park City Trail... Sundance 2010 and more: Jan. 25

Near the bottom of the hill that is Main Street is the Kimball Art Center, but during the festival it is known as Sundance House. By comparison to other places used during the fest it is a large structure; they serve expensive coffee and have panels there. I've attended a third of them.

James Franco in HowlOne panel was on 3D cinematography and was rather technical. But what was most interesting was the use of the giant screen in the room. They didn’t use it at all, instead using several tiny screens on either side of the room. Why they did this is a bit of a mystery. It certainly was a waste of a huge TV screen.

Besides that, most of the last day-and-a-half was spent going from one screening to another This is harder than it seems because at one point, bus driver pretended to have a breakdown, threw everyone out, and then drove off.

My mind is still discombobulated from getting up at 5AM. Four screenings yesterday and five today. While most were good, it’s hard to process all the data.

Two films —  one at Sundance, the other at Slamdance — focus on the Beat Generation and two of its most seminal figures: William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. As the progenitors of the movement, they have had films made about them before, but none like the following:


Directed by: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman

Starring: James Franco, Jon Hamm, David Strathairn, Treat Williams and Bob Balaban
Sundance Film Festival World Premiere

Allen Ginsberg’s "Howl" is one of the most important poems of the 20th century, and as far as I can tell, the last one to be put on trial for obscenity. That the words and not pictures were on trial makes this portrait of the proceedings see entirely absurd.

So how do you film the unfilmable? The movie goes back and forth between the 1957 San Francisco trial and the tumultuous life events that led a young Ginsberg to find his true voice as an artist, and to the mind-expanding animation that is used here to echo the startling originality of the poem itself. All three coalesce in a genre-bending hybrid that is the only way that "Howl" can possibly be turned into a movie.

James Franco stars as Ginsberg but the animators are stars as well. Everyone else, including Jon Hamm and David Strathairn as the opposing attorneys, are mere window dressing. Even though this cannot possibly be considered a one-man show, it definitely feels like it.

William S. Burroughs: A Man Within
Directed by: Tony Leyser
Slamdance Premiere

Some say William S. Burroughs would not have become a great writer had he not murdered his wife in 1951. He shot her in the head while playing like the archer William Tell — whom legend says shot an arrow off his child's head — and got away with it. They said it was an accident.

Burroughs fled to Morocco’s now extinct InterZone, and went on to write countless magazine articles, Naked Lunch and several other dense novels, and went on to inspire entire generations of miscreants. This feature-length independent documentary deals with the man and his career in an fascinating way. 

Going by subject rather than chronologically, Layser goes over the depraved lifestyle Burroughs had lived line by line, from his sex life to the murder of his wife, the books he wrote and his drug addictions. This is dynamite stuff and shows what a repellent bastard he really could be. He could write, and that’s why he was loved but he wasn't necessarily lovable otherwise.

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