After watching Howl in March (which is amazing and totally underrated), I went scouting around for reviews on the film as there has been a weird and mediocre response to it. (Sorry Ultra Culture, I can't agree with you on this one). To me, most of the critiques of the film where unjustified: It didn't know whether it wanted to be a courtroom drama, a love story or a 'proper' biopic, the animation was misplaced and down-right-awful, etc. Everyone has their own right to an opinion, sure, but Howl was a film I really took to, and one of my favourite films of this year. I guess you can't agree with everyone, right?
Esteemed, and well-thought of freelance Guardian and Film 2011 critic, Danny Leigh, wrote a brief piece on Howl before the film was released back in December '09 entitled 'The view: The ugly truth about Allen Ginsberg biopic'.
Thinking that there would be a smidge of actual interesting discussion about the film that would be worth my reading-time, I embarked on the article in hope I would learn more about the film. Alas, no. Instead, it reinforced everything I dislike about the film industry today, and more so, the views that many of us still hold dear - that those born with what society deems as outer attractiveness can't possibly go through the same life experience as those who aren't looked at in this way.
For those of you who need a quick-run down of what Howl is about, I shall be as brief as I can.
Instead of your average run-of-the-mill biopic where the person in question is going against the odds of society and sticking it to the man, Howl explores the writing process Ginsberg underwent to create his masterpiece, and the aftermath on the literary world once the poem was published.
"There is one thing the gilded screen god or goddess will never know, and that's what it's like to be ugly."
This is the line that triggered off an immediate reaction in me when reading the article. There are so many things wrong with that statement, that I couldn't possibly get into them all. Really, the whole thing just makes me cringe for Danny Leigh's sake.
First off, ugliness is a very harsh word. If we are speaking about outward appearances, there are very few people that look 'ugly'. Most people just look, well, normal. We have our own little quirks that make us look like ourselves, but overall, you don't come across editorial model girls in day-to-day life, and if you do, most of the time, they don't necessarily look beautiful, they just photograph really well. And even if we do happen across someone who looks like John (Joseph in real life) Merrick, we know better than those living in the 1800's to gawp and stare.
But then, of course, there is the other side of ugly. Your outer appearance can be seen as being beautiful, but on the inside, it is possible to be ugly. We all have the potential, and we have all had ugly moments that we'd like to forget, and these things make us human.
The implication that not just the quoted line, but the whole article makes, is that people born with flattering faces and aligning features are incapable of feeling the emotions that who you'd perceive as your Average Joe can. They don't come across the same hurdles in life because of what they look like on the outside.
Following this philosophy, James Franco wouldn't be able to do his job and act, because he obviously has the inability to draw out the emotions of the Common Man thanks to his looks. If he is going to play someone in a biopic, it has to be a conventionally good-looking person because Franco has that look about him, right? That's why he was great as James Dean, because, as luck would have it, they are both good-looking.
Even trying to think on that wave length makes me want to bury my head into my hands at the ridiculous outlook some people have.
Describing Allen Ginsberg as being ordinary is again another pitfall, though, and one of the other things that annoyed me about this article. He was anything but ordinary. He was a fantastic writer, and Howl still stands the test of time. It is a wonderful, rhythmic poem, brought even more to life by Franco's perfect delivery of the lines. It takes a certain kind of person to be able to read poetry, or even prose, aloud and Franco was the man for the job. He pulled it off spectacularly and I am sure Ginsberg would be impressed with Franco's performance had he been alive to see the film come to fruition.
Rita Hayworth's transformation is a pretty good example of what being turned down based on looks can do to you.
Her 'ethnic' look supposedly didn't land her any acting jobs, so under-the-knife Rita went. Turns out, she became a sex icon based on those surgical looks. Both Rita's are beautiful, but for someone to go through that much pain and agony to get an acting job, well, it just couldn't have been worth it that much, could it? Obviously it was for Rita.
Another example of this - but less extreme than surgery - is the whole skin-lightening of Gabby Sidibe a couple of years back on the cover of ELLE.
All these moments are just adding to this division we have in society where the Beautiful People have the better existence, (what with all that money and endless sex) while us Ordinaries are a separate breed. Frankly, I am quite bored by this mentality now. For fucks sake, we're all human no matter what the hell we look like, so can't we just get over it already?
Getting back to the topic at hand, here are a couple of examples of recent Hollywood actors who don't look like the counterparts they're playing and could be perceived by audiences as being better looking than the real life person they are portraying:
|Leonardo Dicaprio as Howard Hughes|
|Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles|
|Russell Crowe as John Nash|
Let's not forget the whole cast of I'm Not There as Bob Dylan:
And here are some upcoming biopics played by actors who, again, don't look like their real life counterparts:
|Leonardo Dicaprio..again as J. Edgar Hoover|
|Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher|
Saying that an actor who happens to be someone people find good-looking can't do his job because he doesn't know how it feels to not be anything but nice-looking is just stupid, really. We all have the same insecurities whether they are look based or not. Can't we just get accept that's the case and get over it?