Variety‘s Todd MCarthy has described Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman‘s Howl as “an admirable if fundamentally academic exploration of the origins, impact, meaning and legacy of Allen Ginsberg‘s titular landmark poem, it is also an intriguing hybrid of documentary, narrative and animated filmmaking, one that needed to burst through the constraints of its conceptual origins as a docu to express everything on its mind.
“That said, how many remotely commercial films have ever had the nerve to build themselves around core sequences consisting of long swaths of poetry being read to eager listeners, whose rapturous reactions are recorded in enthusiastic detail? Even if the shock that Ginsberg’s bluntly sexual and provocative words carried then can’t possibly be felt the same way 55 years later, anyone who revels in the pure pleasure of the spoken word will receive rare gratification here.”
And Marshall Fine has called it “an imaginative and thoughtful work, one that illuminates a fascinating moment of cultural history and one of America’s great writers. Whether it will appeal to a mass audience — or even an arthouse crowd — is another question altogether. After all, before the screening last night, the directors thanked their producers for allowing them to make ‘a movie about a poem.’ Which is what they’ve done.”