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The Broken Tower (2011)

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Whoa.

James Franco's directorial debut will be an adaptation of The Broken Tower, a biography of Hart Crane written by Paul Mariani, a great poet who frequents The Glen Workshop!

To sweeten the deal... Michael Shannon's in it!


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Link to the Amazon page for "Palo Alto," Franco's short story collection that the article mentions.

From the Publisher's Weekly review on that page:

Given that Franco could have opted to coast by on movie star mystique, the decision to write about the suburb of his upbringing is intriguing. But the author fails to find anything remotely insightful to say in these 11 amazingly underwhelming stories. The privileged, borderline sociopathic eighth-grade consciousness...reads like Patrick Bateman from American Psycho fell into a Catcher in the Rye remix...the overall failure of this collection has nothing to do with its side project status and everything to do with its inability to grasp the same lesson lost on its gallery of high school reprobates: there is more to life than this.

Yeah, don't think I'll be picking that one up.


It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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Oh, darn. Not only am I taking a seminar involving Hart Crane this semester, but this movie is streaming on Netflix US. So I feel--obscurely obligated to watch it.

 

EDIT: Ok, I'll make time for it this weekend. But looking over Franco's other projects, I think I'm finally beginning to get what about him irks so many people--including myself. His eagerness to link himself to Big Names--Faulkner, Ginsberg, Crane--suggests less academic enthusiasm and more a certain conviction that hitching his wagon to these Big Names will confer some of their luster to him. The trailer above is a perfect example--coasting entirely on the HART CRANEness of it all [more properly, coasting on Crane's poetry], with not a trace of talent beyond that possessed by an average film-school student.

Edited by NBooth

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Watched about half of it this morning--and I seriously need a break. It's bad. Amateurish would be a kind way to describe it. Now, saying anyone understands Crane is probably reaching--I certainly don't; my exposure to Crane is of recent vintage--but it's not reaching to say that Franco clearly doesn't. Also, that he should buy one of those gizmos that steady his camera and that he vastly overestimates how interesting it is to watch him read "The Marriage of Faustus and Helen" in its entirety. 

 

This movie is making me actively angry, which few flicks do. I'll pick it back up when I've calmed down and see if it gets any better.

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I'm guessing this film is better understood in the context of the fact that Franco has been experimenting with different ways of trying to bring books of poetry to the screen, including here and here.  It does not seem like an easy endeavor.

 

I'll have to try this soon.

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I'm guessing this film is better understood in the context of the fact that Franco has been experimenting with different ways of trying to bring books of poetry to the screen, including here and here.  It does not seem like an easy endeavor.

 

I get that Franco has done other movies about poets, and I'm sure that he would respond to my gripes by making a similar claim (although giving Franco credit or blame for Howl would be really unfair to Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman). As I said above, I'm not convinced that Franco is actually interested in these writers so much as he is in hitching himself to the cultural capital they represent. The problem is that he doesn't get the poetry. I'm not even sure he's interested in the poetry. Not here. He's interested in talking about the idea of poetry. But he replaces all the bright, hard, metallic Craneian stuff with bog-standard tortured artist guff [not to say that Crane wasn't tortured--but let's face it, this is a regular biopic with the numbers filed off, replacing the glossiness of a King's Speech with a pseudo-artsy verite style]. There's no real discussion of how Crane's poetry works or what it might mean. There's no real feeling for what Crane is clearly up to in The Bridge (a book which is--especially compared to White Houses--actually pretty accessible). There's just a mouthing of some things Crane said, some [very bad] voice-over reading of some of his poetry, and--well, that's it. And to no effect; because that's isn't what Franco is up to. Even the voice-overs are deadeningly literal ["Oh, he's talking about bells! Let's show bells!" "Hey, Crane committed suicide by jumping out of a boat! I'll bet we could use 'Voyages'  here!"]. 

 

Here's the thing: Crane considered himself an "absolutist" in poetry--not an impressionist. The scope of The Bridge--as I understand it, anyway--is national and eternal: "I would like to establish [the poem] as free from my own personality as from any chance evaluation on the reader's part (This is, of course an impossibility, but it is a characteristic worth mentioning). Such a poem is at least a stab at a truth, and to such an extent may be differentiated from other kinds of poetry and called 'absolute.'"--this, from "General Aims and Theories." Ok, fine. So Franco decides to film a story about this absolutist by cramming it full of close-ups of the poet walking? This strikes me as precisely the opposite of the direction the camera should be pointing. It speaks to a fascination, not with the poetry, but with the poet as a rebellious bad-boy figure who lived hard and died tragically. So I'm not very willing to give Franco credit, here, for wanting to get poetry on screen. He wants to get himself on screen; the poetry is a by-product.

 

If the director/actor were anyone else, and the film were as it is now, I'm not sure he would arouse this much ire from me--but that's mostly because the movie would be justly ignored and only shown in clips to college sophomores as part of their lit survey courses.

 

I'll say this for him--there are a couple of scenes in the second half that do look very nice in black and white. The recurring shots of the Brooklyn Bridge actually evoke something of Crane. If there were more of that and fewer long scenes of Franco [a] saying "Naugahyde" is a raspy voice, dancing drunkenly behind a mariachi band, and [c] walking unimpressively down the street, then we might have something. If there was anything in the visuals to match the poetry--if it were lensed by Christopher Doyle, for instance--we might have something. As it is, this is a brutally boring movie, poorly directed, poorly acted, and poorly conceived. And Franco clearly expects to coast by based on the fact that it's Hart Crane

 

EDIT: In the interest of completeness, the movie sits at 20% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Edited by NBooth

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