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7 of the Best and Worst Renditions of Allen Ginsberg

By Tiara Chiaramonte

Daniel Radcliffe’s new take on Allen Ginsberg in Kill Your Darlings brings back the not-so-distant memories of James Franco’s portrayal of the Beat poet in Howl. But the two are in a group of many actors who have attempted to put their creative stamp on the role. So here’s a look at the range of renditions of Ginsberg that have hit the big screen.

With the hairstyle, makeup, and the iconic glasses, Radcliffe looks surprisingly similar to the young Ginsberg. And to his critics, Radcliffe pointed out he suited the role much better than predecessors. "Any criticism of me not looking right for the part — well, James Franco is way too good-looking to play Allen Ginsberg,” Radcliffe told BBC News.

While James Franco’s haircut and glasses certainly looked spot-on with the Beat poet’s style, not much else worked. Franco’s model good looks worked against him, preventing the actor from truly capturing Ginsberg’s playful quirkiness in Howl.

Chicago 10 is a partially animated documentary released in 2007 that sought to tell the story of the Chicago Eight. The trial was reenacted using famous actors like Mark Ruffalo and Liev Schreiber as the voices of the historical figures. Hank Azaria voiced Abbie Hoffman and Ginsberg. While Chicago 10’s cartoon take on Ginsberg is very modern, we have a bias toward our own vintage cover art. In The Advocate's issue 228, released in 1977, Dennis Forbes drew the poet (above, left).

Unless Jeff Goldblum decides to play Ginsberg, David Cross might be the most fitting actor — at least in the looks department — to portray the poet. Cross had a small cameo as Ginsberg in the Bob Dylan biographical film I’m Not There.

In the 2000 drama Beat, Ron Livingston played Ginsberg. We think the entire movie missed the mark on casting, with Kiefer Sutherland playing William S. Burroughs and Courtney Love as his wife, Joan Vollmer Burroughs.

In the 2012 film adaptation of On the Road, the English actor Tom Sturridge played Carlo Marx, the fictional representation of Ginsberg in the novel. If James Franco was too good-looking to play Ginsberg in Howl two years earlier, then Sturridge was really the wrong choice. Sturridge’s Ginsberg looked more like a model than a poet.


The Source: The Story of the Beats and the Beat Generation was a 2001 BBC series about the great American poets of the 1960s. Johnny Depp played Jack Kerouac, Dennis Hopper played William S. Burroughs, and John Turturro played Ginsberg. Turturro’s portrayal, like many others, was missing Ginsberg’s iconic long curly hair and beard. We’re wondering why so many films feature the young, clean-shaven Ginsberg look.

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