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Thursday, January 21, 2010

And James Dean As Allen Ginsberg

I got a pleasant surprise about a month ago, clicking on an article at the NY Times, about the upcoming slate of movies at the 2010 Sundance Festival. The picture heading up the article featured James Franco staring down a typewriter page: he's playing Allen Ginsberg in "Howl," which will be making its debut at Sundance tonight. It's been getting some good anticipatory buzz, snagging the premiere Sundance slot. The movie focuses on the poem and obscenity trial that took place in the wake of its publication -- and the poem itself has been animated. I did some storyboarding for one of the animation sequences, riffing off an initial storyboard created by the main designer of the animation, Eric Drooker.

(photo from the NY Times)

It certainly wasn't your typical storyboarding job, trying to work out Ginsberg's charged, pseudo-free-associated patter into sequences of images. I worked on the third section of the poem, which is addressed directly to Carl Solomon, a fellow inmate with Ginsberg at the Columbia Psychiatric Institute (Ginsberg spent several months at the mental hospital). Here is an excerpt of that section:

I'm with you in Rockland
where we are great writers on the same dreadful
I'm with you in Rockland
where your condition has become serious and
is reported on the radio
I'm with you in Rockland
where the faculties of the skull no longer admit
the worms of the senses
I'm with you in Rockland
where you drink the tea of the breasts of the
spinsters of Utica

Obviously, the images are already there -- the challenge was to make visuals that wouldn't seem redundant -- that would spill out into their own poetic associations -- and still be able to link together, the stanzas vertebrae in an overarching spine that would weave through the entire poem. Eric had already laid out an over-riding image for the section, a surreal boat journey taken by Ginsberg and Solomon, linking them like the images of Dante and Virgil that have descended, through the works of Blake and Doré, from the Divine Comedy.

The storyboard went through other passes after I was done with it, getting worked over by John Hays, the animation director (who I've known from my days at the WIldBrain Animation Studio). I haven't seen any of the finished animation, and have no idea how many, if any, of my shots made it through to the final edit. But I have my fingers crossed for a positive reaction from the premiere. I'll probably have more to write about this project down the line, but wanted to at least send out those crossed fingers on the big day.

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