Despite the fact that nisei Shig Murao was arrested at City Lights for selling HOWL to an undercover cop, taken to the SF police department for fingerprints and a mug shot, and actually stood trial with Ferlinghetti in court, the makers of the new film HOWL deemed him an unnecessary character. Erased.
Story here by JK Yamamoto, originally published in Nikkei West newspaper.
I finally went to see the movie with Sam for a late showing in Pasadena, and though the first few minutes brought indignant tears of rage to my eyes, I began to feel it dissolve away when the realization of how feeble the film was actually hit me. Without a doubt, it is a slap in the face to witness the deliberate act of writing people of color out of the mainstream history and culture. Because the main character of the film was the poem "Howl" and not really Ginsberg himself, many important people in Ginsberg's life were excised out, or relegated to the role of cardboard mugs of handsome men and women in their clunky 50s eyewear and cardigans. However, I do still bear a grudge that because the film focused on the controversy of the poem, its publication and the trial that ensued (while cutting back and forth to shots of Ginsberg's inaugural reading at Six Gallery back on October 7, 1955 and fiery Molochy naked city animation by Eric Drooker) I still argue that Shig deserved to be included in this tale.
Perhaps its an easy thing for me to dismiss the film HOWL as a major disappointment, given that the court scenes had zero tension (all of the witnesses who saw now artistic or literary value to the poem were depicted as self-satisfied, uptight morons stuck in their ye olde Chaucer ways); and the script lacked any context in which the poem was written and conceived in, other than Ginsberg's personal search for identity. (No mention of the World War II and how it birthed the corporate military machine and a generation of complacent squares all marching towards their prefab suburban life of consumerism). In other words, what was it that this book of poems was pushing against?
Yet I can't help but wonder, at what point in the screenplay that it was agreed that Murao was a disposable character? How was the inclusion of Shig as a co-defendant (as was historically accurate) hindering the script? What gains were made by steamlining a piece of the story that might have brought a much needed twist of irony and complexity to the film?
Every artist has the right to create a work as they see fit. Yeah yeah, go on ahead and write your own damned book.