The Many Cinematic Faces of Allen Ginsberg


This week, we saw the first photo evidence of Daniel Radcliffe’s turn as American poet Allen Ginsberg in John Krokidas’s Kill Your Darlings, the newest drama about the Beat Generation. Though the film raises many questions for us, like “Do we need another film about Allen Ginsberg right now?” and “Why is a British kid playing a quintessential American icon?” and “But would Jesse Eisenberg really have been any better?,” we’re still pretty fascinated by any portrayal of Ginsberg on screen, however flawed it might be.

In an interview with the BBC, Radcliffe defended his casting, joking, “Well, James Franco is way too good-looking to play Allen Ginsberg.” True, but Radcliffe doesn’t look any more like the poet than Franco does. We don’t understand why nobody has ever cast Jeff Goldblum. It seems like a no-brainer. Ginsberg has been portrayed on film and television more than ten times since 1987, but there’s always room for improvement. We’ve taken a look at a few of his more prominent portrayals and laid down the brief, purely superficial judgement — let us know if you agree in the comments.

John Turturro in American Masters episode “The Source” (2000)

Maybe we’ve been swayed by O Brother, Where Art Thou?, but Turturro seems a funny choice for Ginsberg — too jumpy, too angular, with none of the Buddha-like softness the poet exuded even in his younger years. Then again, he does pull off the literary nerd effect with the best of them.

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Ron Livingston in Beat (2000)

The first in the now-developing string of actors too pretty to play the — let’s not lie — kind of strange looking Ginsberg, Livingston’s portrayal is a little too understated for our tastes. And those classes are way too round. We know you have the chops, just try a little bit harder, Peter Gibbons!

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David Cross in I’m Not There (2007)

Here’s our favorite cinematic Ginsberg by far, played by a man who actually looks a lot like the poet in real life, and still goes all out with the late-stage beard and hair. Plus, his exuberant, hippie guru performance was spot on.

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James Franco in Howl (2010)

There’s been a lot of discussion over whether Franco was fit to play Ginsberg, but we think his performance was one of the best things about the movie — and they even managed to make Franco look a little bit like him, though we agree he’s way too handsome for the role. It’s the beard that makes it work — otherwise we’re just looking at James Franco wearing a slightly ’70s shade of yellow.

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Daniel Radcliffe in Kill Your Darlings (2012)

Now, Radcliffe looks nothing like Ginsberg — too thin in the lips and nose, too porcelain all over. Plus, he’s English, and we find that sort of strange — not because we don’t think he can pull of an American accent, but because so much of what Ginsberg was about was so particularly American, and his personage is ingrained in the country’s literary history. That said, we’re hoping his performance shakes off all of our doubts.

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