Kill Your Darlings, John Krokidas’ movie that just premiered at Sundance, starring Daniel Radcliffe as Allen, has been garnishing some success. Picked up by Sony Pictures Classics for international distribution, we’re, undoubtedly, going to hear more (much more!). Nominally biographical (but not really), the movie skirts around some issues of historical accuracy – some would argue – fatally. The ethics of movie-making, the ethics of dealing with, not fabrications but real lives. Bob Rosenthal, Allen’s long-time confidant and secretary, head of the Allen Ginsberg Trust, presents a dissenting view to the current raves so far lauded on the film. This is an important statement.
Movies are the fabilaux of our age, a sure-fire way to make a connection to an emotion or an idea is to employ a movie reference. With this in mind, I also understand that movies are not about literal truth, they are about message. However when real events are mixed in with imaginary events, it seems to me the message can get subverted or lost entirely.
The film Kill Your Darlings, confuses me greatly. On one hand, it is a superb evocation of young college students in the midst of World War II finding theit unique means of expression in the world. It focuses on the life of the young Allen Ginsberg. Daniel Radcliffe is sensitive to the shy/not shy young poet. The atmosphere is achieved brilliantly and the mood is ecstatic. The message that one must live beyond academia’s walls to find content for poetry and literature is clearly stated by film’s end. Yet, the film takes its own title too seriously.
The large fabrications in the film are not so worrisome as the small ones. In any case, when the truth is stepped on and the nuance of truth is denied, the message becomes moribund. Allen Ginsberg told both Peter Hale and myself [of the Allen Ginsberg Trust] that David Kammerer was “not a creep!”; in fact, Allen really liked David. At no time, did Allen want David to die. Everyone is entitled to dysfunctional love! David was obsessed with Lucien Carr, but that obsession just made him annoying, not hateful. Lucien Carr did not premeditate the killing,nor did he drown David in the manner that the film depicts Lucien and Allen did not have a “co-dependent” relationship, as was stated by John Krokidas in the Q & A following the New York preview. The movie suggests that Lucien actively prevented Allen and others from writing about the case. Those of us who knew Lucien know that he only wanted anonymity and spent his life quietly loving his family and drinking. His silence was a remorse for a youthful blunder, not a conspiracy to hide the truth. Allen loved Lucien without reservation and protected Lucien from close scrutiny out of that strong love. I think this ugly portrayal of Lucien will be hurtful to those who call him Pops and Granddad. Kill Your Darlings purports to be sensitive to the characters but falls into reductive cliches and hurts those who knew and loved these characters. Friends tell me that this cannot be helped, that all films based on real lives are at heart false to the reality of the person. But this hurt is glaring when compared to Allen’s actual aphoristic expression on how to live one’s life, (which) was – ” Well, while I’m here I’ll/ do the work -/ and what’s the Work?/ To ease the pain of living/ Everything else, drunken/ dumbshow” (“Memory Gardens”).”Howl” changed the American consciousness and still liberates young people to find the courage of their convictions. Yet this is a film about Allen before he reaches this understanding of mindfulness, but just as art is not allowed to depict boredom in a boring manner, it cannot depict callousness with boxing gloves on.
Allen’s family is negatively portrayed without the benefit of accuracy. In the film, Allen is hurtful to Edith on their first meeting.This is cutting to our memory of Edith and to her family. Did Louis Ginsberg publicly slap his son over Naomi’s re-commitment to Pilgrim State Mental Hospital? – No. Read the father-and-son correspondence in (Michael Schumacher’s) “Family Business“; the relationship was remarkable in its depth, volatility and love. At times dialogue makes one wince; putting words into the mouths of great writers is always a tricky business. This film is remarkable (in) that it is not too embarrassing; until it has Allen read a dreadful scripted poem to (Jack) Kerouac, to which Kerouac signals his deep approval.
In the Judaic system of commentary on the Holy Scriptures, it became acceptable to invent stories to explain different verses . These stories are called midrash. They are not designed to mislead but rather to expand one’s perception on the verse. This film is a midrash but it does not connect to any holy scripture. To me, it engenders hurt without purpose.
Bob Rosenthal, Feb 3, 2013, New York City