Director(s): James Franco
IMDB Rating: 5.7
A look at the dreams, unapologetic love of men , manic highs and depressive, death-haunted lows of early 20th century rebellious, self-destructive visionary poet Hart Crane from his early years as the son of a wealthy Cleveland businessman through his sojourns in New York, Cuba and Paris.
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manxman-1 (12 May 2013)
The Broken Tower is the type of movie one generally sees at minor filmfestivals and thence disappears into the darkness, never to be seenagain. Having said that, one should never dismiss such honorableefforts simply because there is no vast audience for a film that has nospecial effects, extra terrestrials, car chases or gunplay (which wouldexclude most European movies.) Oh and yes, it's in black and white andconcerns Hart Crane, a gay poet in the 1920's who killed himself atthirty two. James Franco wrote and directed this movie, which comes across as anexperimental film from a student still with much to learn. (Notknocking it, merely an observation, which is open to argument.) Whatthe movie lacks most of all is an introduction to the many people whomCrane came into contact with during his life (from literary and socialcritic Waldo Frank - HUGE in his observations on American Society, towriter Malcolm Cowley and his painter-wife Peggy (Crane's onlyheterosexual love affair), painter Georgia O'Keefe and her husbandAlfred Stieglitz, introducing Crane to Literary New York in the shapeof Eugene O'Neill.) And other major influences in his life, Caresse andHarry Crosby (publishers of the Black Sun Press in Paris, who firstbrought recognition to William Burroughs, James Joyce etc, whose workswere considered too obscene to be published in America.) WHERE is thescene where Harry Crosby (nephew of J.P. Morgan) considered the modelfor the Great Gatsby and the acknowledged epitome of drug-fueledextravagance and irresponsible behaviour in the 1920's, murders hismistress and kills himself while Hart is obliviously having dinner withCaresse? And what about Emil Opffer, Crane's one great love, for whomhe wrote the suite of poems VOYAGES, which drop into the movie withflat readings, completely unbolstered by imaginative visuals? Nothingabout Opffer's background, his family's flight from assassination inDenmark or Opffer's own experiences during World War 1. And what aboutCrane's mother's mental instability, her rejection of him for hishomosexuality and threats to expose his sexual preferences to hisfather? And the meeting between Crane and Federico Garcia Lorca in1929? Two doomed poets, both homosexual, totally unalike but bothcritical of American Society in the 1920's, although Crane's love forhis country was absolute and eternal.The Broken Tower does illustrate the difficulties of Crane's poetry,which in his own words is described as "A jazz roof garden method,evolved from a pseudo-symphonic construction, of an abstract beautythat has not been done before in the English language. A kind ofmetaphysical quotidian combination". (Wow!) At the time Crane's poetrywas more appreciated outside of the United States than within. (TheLondon Times: "Mr Crane reveals a profound originality in lines ofarresting and luminous quality", whereas in the New York SaturdayReview, "Mr. Crane rapes language under the impression he is paying itthe highest compliment".) Poet Marianne Moore, who printed some ofCrane's earliest poems, found them so impenetrable that she rewrotethem without Crane's permission, an act of betrayal that devastatedhim.What Crane was aiming for with his poetry was an Elizabethan accent onthe American scene, drawn from the example of T.S. Eliot's The WasteLand, but rejecting Eliot's whole-hearted pessimism. Crane believed inAmerica as the bridge to the future through mechanisation and he triedto infuse this in his poetry. What he ended up with was a mass ofimages that were so dense in their construction that the uninitiatedreader would find them impossible to navigate. Crane believed instarting the journey for the reader, but forcing them to complete it ontheir own, which inevitably led to a great deal of frustration.The Broken Tower is divided into various "Voyages", supposedly designedto illustrate the major events in Crane's life, drawing ever closer tohis suicide. These are introduced by cue cards. For example "Hart Cranegoes to Cuba" -- and we see him taking a long, long walk down a streetsomewhere. Or "Hart Crane goes to Mexico" -- and we see him singing ina bar with a Mexican guitarist. The pivotal moments in his life simplyfail to materialize. While his alcoholism and poverty are welldocumented, and figure in the movie, so many other incidents aremissing. The fact that he left America when the Great Depression hit,the fact that he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship that enabled himto live in Mexico during this period, but was threatened withwithdrawal due to his erratic behaviour and public intoxication, isnowhere to be seen.Another screenplay, entitled HART CRANE, written in 2008, can be foundon www.simplyscripts.com and covers all the main incidents in Crane'slife. Unfortunately, while it might be of interest to anyone seeking afuller and more coherent version of Crane's life, it is unlikely everto see the light of day due to the release of The Broken Tower.Summing up, James Franco deserves kudos for having tackled such adifficult and uncommercial subject. Certainly an originalinterpretation of a problematical character, the chasms that existbetween each "Voyage" and the lack of depth in the main character (dueto the absence of any interaction with the main movers and shakers inhis life) make it highly unlikely that this movie will have any lastingeffect or figure in any revival. However, if this movie interestsanyone enough to seek out Crane's poetry, then that is everything onecan wish for -- and grateful thanks to James Franco for that.
VillageVoiceNY (12 May 2013)
The Broken Tower, James Franco's MFA thesis film at NYU, stars theprofessional graduate- degree collector as Hart Crane, the Americanpoet who committed suicide at age 32 in 1932. Dividing the writer'sshort life into a series of "Voyages" (the title of a sequence oferotic poems by Crane), Franco's project, based on Paul Marinari's 2000study, commits the usual sins of the embalmed literary biopic. The rageof the delicate artist against bourgeois convention is telegraphed viascenes of Crane railing against his chocolatier father and dementedlyincanting product names ("Naugahyde!") at the ad agency where he musttoil to support his craft. Grandiose, tin-eared...Read the full review here: http://www.villagevoice.com/movies/
Paul Asplund & Karl Dunn (05 May 2013)
Just attended the premier of The Broken Tower at the LA Film Festivaland, once again, James Franco makes brave choices and produces abeautiful film. The camera work, editing, score, and the actors'performances, sustain a sometimes difficult story with elegance,honesty, and passion.Set against the backdrop of 1920's New York, Paris, Cuba, and Mexico,The Broken Tower succeeds in merging two disparate art forms, film andpoetry, to propel the narrative. There's also a lot of silence in thisfilm where we are allowed to see Crane's world as through his eyes.Elegaic sequences are punctuated with cuts to black and the spare andsubtle soundtrack perfectly matches the storytelling.I admit to knowing nothing about Hart Crane before tonight's screeningbut I left wanting to read his poems and letters myself.Thank you, Mr. Franco, wlm
sandover (05 May 2013)
How to catch a tone, and what one betrays. James Franco is some kind ofcultural phenomenon of our times; he has been called "Hollywood'sworkaholic", he himself has admitted an aversion to sleep since "thereis so much to do", and for some time now has a flair for what may behis signature mode, that is performing artistic stunts, from cinema tovideo to installation and fiction.Hart Crane is a different matter. Who is not - even slightly - takenaback at first encounter by his curious mix of idioms, mixingElizabethan enunciation, coining even words, with exotic images (rum,calypso, pirates, mermen) that are witnesses to a grinding difficultyalmost agonizing in his voice, a voice of such distinctive music, thatone wonders this concoction of the archaic, the deliberatelyanachronistic and the hesitant, traumatic modern - what does it mean?Should we bother, as in a peripheral phenomenon? Or, and here is mystake, it is America's unique candidate for articulating how can onewrite poetry - and of what kind - in a traumatic modernity? From JohnAshbery to James Merrill and all other major or minor gay poets of the'60's, everybody seemed at least baffled when asked about his relationto Hart Crane. This is crucial.In my mind I tend to associate his act with Fitzgerald's "Tender is theNight" case of having two, not quite satisfying, versions of the novel,as if he too was coping with something. Alcoholism is a common ground,but I think is more symptomatic, and just not enough. To cut to thechase, what troubled Fitzgerald was how to integrate the ideal(ized)couple's disintegration as failing to conform in the eyes of the socialorder, the question "How the Big Other perceives me?" That socialorder, its stability, cracked in the dawn of 20th century modernity,and I think this is what troubled Hart Crane, too, as his pirate,clandestine imagery suggests.Is all this relevant? It is. For I think James Franco shies away fromconfronting the specificity of the case in regard to his stance; forwhat we get is big chops of poetry reading and then a bizarrelyinarticulate movie. There is a gap between these two modes thatFitzerald and Crane confronted - that is the gap in the social linkthat is to be filled/articulated with artistic production or love - andis not convincing, for one simple reason if you will: tell me what isthe difference between this depiction, and the one Franco performed in"Howl"; both seem to fit a "maudit", more misfit than doom-eager artistof the '60s, let alone articulate, and there is where Franco's socialsense betrays him.On another level, let's look into this: the film, tellingly, evolvedfrom Franco's thesis on Hart Crane. For all its borrowed cinematicvocabulary and merit, it has an "objectified" look, as referring tosome external discourse, as if its "artistry" was compromised.Compromised by what? This is one case of what the french analystJacques Lacan called "the Discourse of the University", that is turningan object into quantifiable knowledge, that means taking Hart Crane orsome gay, beat, marginal poet and integrate him (what an ideal object)in the academic machinery, domesticating exactly what resists it, itsexcess.To put it plainly, there is no sense of bravura from the poems toinform the cinematic form, even what was instantly a surprise - thechromatic turn inside Notre Dame - misfires for it makes "the visionarycompany of love" a question of dubious religious upbringing ordisposition (that recurring choir) and finally desexualizes the carnal,endangered alert of Hart Crane's poetry. No true sense of poetic threator encroached lamentation or release as in "The Broken Tower".In the end, it is a curio of cultural rather than artistic contours:James Franco has a disturbed, rebelled social sense without a causethat fitted him perfectly from the role that made him rise, James Dean,onwards for some time - I would even say he showed true allegiance withit. On the other hand, he is a post-Warhol era phenomenon: it seems hisambition is to perform literally Warhol's poker-faced phrase "I want tobe a machine". But look what happens: instead of holding on to thisrebellion, that sort of impatience that is such a virtue for the Frenchpeople, he has collapsed the two into a machine without a cause.
prodigal_1 (26 April 2013)
***Alert: some spoilers contained herein - but if one knows the life ofCrane then these are not so revealing).*** Such is a healthy attitudefor a despondent artist. It is one of the few bright spot seenshimmering from Crane in this biopic. James Franco takes Hart Crane'swords - poetry and letters - and uses them as a backdrop for theevolution of a writer of promise cut down by his own wretched soul. Atleast that is how Crane comes off.Before I watched this flick I re-acquainted myself with Crane's verse;then I kept his book at hand during the film - which helped me keepinterested in the movie. Franco manages to take the best of Crane - hispoetry - and make it as bland as boiled chicken. There is one scenewith Crane reading his work - rather than infuse the passion seenelsewhere in the film emanating from Crane - Franco chooses to recitethe poems with no heart. The crowd's reaction to the second of thepoems ('For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen') is understandable giventhe content and how Franco drones as Crane. The man's poetry needs tobe read and sifted through several times before it feel accessible insome small way and Francdo blew a great opportunity to get his fans -who might not otherwise read any verse - interested in poetry. Granted,the rest of the film has me wanting to delve deeper into Crane's bioand his work. But I am most likely an anomaly in this respect, as I,too, am a poet and a teacher of literature. Still, with a positiveattitude toward what is shown and read of Crane someone could becomeentranced with his work and also want to read more of it.As for the filmmaking aspect, there are many issues there: hand-heldcameras make for unsteady viewing, seemingly random pick-up shots aremeant to set scenes, and a windscreen was sorely needed for themicrophone used to collect audio in several shots. An interestingapproach is used to show the leap from younger Crane to the (slightly)older Crane played by Franco - using the aforementioned sporadic shots.It is filmed almost entirely in black and white (which is what onemight expect from this sort of film, artsy and so-forth). Colour doeswork its way in during a trip to the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris -but it had me screaming for the return to B&W since the camerasemployed could not handle the natural interior lighting of the church,therefore showing the limitations of the production. Perhaps Francothought this approach would show the beauty of the place and highlightthe impact it had on Crane; however, the camera's constant trying toadjust its 'eye' to the setting took me out of the film.The story is unfolded through a series of "Voyages" (fitting, as thefilm ends with an excerpt from Crane's so-named poem and that it is ona sea-vessel that the poet chose to end his life). Title cards offerthe subject in each 'Voyage' and the section reflects this accordingly:which helps one follow Crane's overall voyage.Franco manages to show the tortured artist trying to support himselfand create poetry - but is ultimately unable to do both. Grants andfellowships are the godsend for any artist to contribute his verse tothe world and that Crane enjoys both and is able to write is evident.Malaise works its way into his psyche and builds along the way to showthe viewer what led to Crane's demise.The much-hyped oral pleasure scene seems unnecessary - yes, Crane wasgay. There were better ways to make this known (as Franco shows inother parts of the movie) without having to resort to such a cheap ployfor shock value.There is a scene where Crane - frustrated by finding out his financialsituation is hopeless, vents his feelings in his room; while I get theemotion, Franco falls short in expressing the way Crane would havefelt. This stems, perhaps, in Franco himself never feeling deniedanything he truly wanted so he is unable to display the rage a trulytormented artist would vent when going from simmering anger to aboiling cauldron of virulence in an instant.Michael Shannon appears in a minor, yet major role, but his characterhardly speaks and comes, then goes, and comes then goes again soquickly that such a power of talent (he alone propelled 'The Runaways'forward and made that flick worth watching) never gets a chance to makean impact.Overall, the movie is ambitious and Franco does a righteous job ofadapting the source material employed (Crane's poetry and PaulMariani's 'The Broken Tower: The Life of Hart Crane') into a watchableslice of celluloid. The build-up of a creative genius torn apart byknowing his own abilities are wrecked by external factors is shownrather well.(Full Disclosure: the above is the exact same review I posted on iTunesfor this film)
Boba_Fett1138 (25 April 2013)
Even though this movie certainly is not entirely my cup of tea, I'mstill able to see and recognize it as a good and original movie, thatdoesn't always makes things easy for itself.You could definitely say that this movie is being a bit too artisticfor my taste. It's shot entirely in black & white and doesn'tnecessarily follow a main plot line. It just follows its maincharacter, without making it apparent what direction the movie will beheading at. It also makes it often hard to see what the point ofcertain sequences in this movie are. It makes the movie at times feellike a bit of a pointless and overlong one.The movie definitely starts to become a bit of an endurance test aftera while. I was perfectly able to take and follow the movie for itsfirst 90 minutes or so but after that point it starts to become muchharder to stay interested, also since the movie too often isn'tproviding you with anything interesting or provoking enough.It's definitely not an usual biopic, that goes deep into things. Youstill feel that you really get to know its main subject though, throughits slow and subtle storytelling. He doesn't even say all that much buthe lets his poetry and actions speak for him. In that regard I reallyhave to compliment the movie and this also was the foremost reason whyI still really liked it. You might not fully get to know the real HartCrane through this movie but it might still get you interested in himand his work.James Franco is excellent as the movie its main character, even thoughhe looks absolutely nothing like the real Hart Crane. It was not aneasy role to play but Franco is luckily not afraid to make things hardon himself at times, which results in an interesting character andperformance, that is solid enough to carry the entire movie. Since itreally foremost is Franco who has most of the movie its screen time andthe movie isn't focusing ever on any other characters. But that's not all Franco did. He also directed, wrote, produced andedited it. In other words, this was a real passion project for JamesFranco and this luckily does show in the movie. It's a skillfully mademovie, with eye for detail, that handles its main subject subtly andwith real respect.I liked it good enough and respect it but I of course do realize thatthis movie is not for just everyone. 7/10 http://bobafett1138.blogspot.com/
Review total: 6, showing from 1 to 6