14 February 2012 | gradyharp
A Brave Little Film that Finds a New Way of Communicating
THE BROKEN TOWER will likely never be on the list of best films made, so why award it five stars? Because this very fine art piece is the result of the devotion of James Franco to his craft. He worked directly with Boston College professor Paul Mariani, the author of a half dozen volumes of poetry, as well as several biographies of 20th-century American poets, including William Carlos Williams, John Berryman, and Robert Lowell: Franco based THE BROKEN TOWER on Mariani's similarly titled 2000 biography of Crane.
The subject of the film is the life and creative genius of Hart Crane, (July 21, 1899 - April 27, 1932) an American poet who found both inspiration and provocation in the poetry of T. S. Eliot, Crane wrote modernist poetry that is difficult, highly stylized, and very ambitious in its scope. In his most ambitious work, The Bridge, Crane sought to write an epic poem in the vein of The Waste Land that expressed something more sincere and optimistic than the ironic despair that Crane found in Eliot's poetry. In the years following his suicide at the age of 32, Crane has come to be seen as one of the most influential poets of his generation.
James Franco wrote the screenplay based on book by Paul Mariani, directed and edited the film and acted the main role of Hart Crane. Crane was a nearly disconsolate man who refused to follow his wealthy father's business, longing instead to be a poet. Born in Ohio he traveled to New York (the place he always considered home), to Cuba, and to Paris searching for his poetic voice. He was a gay man in an era when his lifestyle was always under threat, he had a lover (Vince Jolivette) early on in an affair that was filled with passion, and in his travels he seemed to find his true love in Emile (Michael Shannon) that endured the manic highs and depressive, death-haunted lows that befell this self -destructive visionary poet. He attempted suicide at least once and finally ended his life in a successful suicide at the young age of 32.
Franco breathes life into Hart Crane, offering more understanding of this enigmatic genius than we have ever been afforded. In making the film Franco uses his younger brother Dave Franco to depict the young Hart and selects his small cast wisely. The film is completely in black and white and is in the format of 'Voyages' - each voyage takes us through a distinct part of Hart's life: his gay loves, his poetry readings, his forays to Cuba and to Paris and his lonely hours of sitting before an old typewriter where he created the major epics of poetry that remain some of the finest ever written by an American poet.
The film is choppy, not unlike the manner in which Hart's mind worked in bits and pieces, always immersed in thoughts of the sea, the labor of common man, of the Brooklyn Bridge which would play the major role in his most famous epic poem THE BRIDGE, and of the fellow artists whose work he so admired. There is a strange musical score (the work of Neil Benezra) which is long on choral chanting, and a quality of gritty cinematography achieved by Christiana Vorn. The technique of the making of this film matches the vision of James Franco in continuing to visit the lives of isolated geniuses. The dialogue, what little there is, is Crane's poetry as spoken by Franco.
For many this film will seem self-indulgent on Franco's part. And perhaps it partially is. But the flavor of this gay American poet of the 1920s and the reflections of America at that time ring true. THE BROKEN TOWER is not a biopic of Hart Crane. It is an elegy.