Jordan Larson in The Atlantic last week on that Beats-on-the-silver-screen phenomenon
“What Hollywood Gets Wrong About Jack Kerouac and The Beat Generation”. Nice to see critical eyes returning to Walter Salles’ labor of love “On The Road” – and Michael Polish’s equally reverential “Big Sur” (not to mention Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s “Howl”, with James Franco’s unforgettable performance). Larson’s primary thesis – “The current Beat revival arguably goes too far with its re-imagination of the Beat writers’ livelihoods as simple adolescent goofing around – its most prominent writers were, after all, well into their grown-up years when they wrote many of their most notable writings. This crop of films diminishes what was so radical about the Beat Generation in the first place: their iconoclastic approach to life, which extended far beyond their twenties and into adulthood proper.…In casting the authors as eternally and fundamentally adolescent, the recent revival tones down their behavior – both revolutionary and repulsive – as a sort of passing teenage phase, something that young people just sort of do. And in that way, the latest cultural reincarnation both nullifies and excuses the behavior of its leaders”.
For the full text of Larson’s article – see here
.John Krokidas’ Kill Your Darlings (there’s just no getting away from it!) continues to get rave reviews (tho’ some have argued that it’s not getting reviewed enough!) – Cast and crew continue to give interviews. (For just two examples – see here and here)
John Krokidas: “We attacked the research side from all angles. I went out to Stanford University to the Allen Ginsberg archives. What was interesting to me was an account by one of David Kammerer‘s friends who said Kammerer had been maligned by history and that his relationship with Lucien Carr was much more reciprocal than history had portrayed…What struck me in our research was finding from several sources that David Kammerer gave (W.B.) Yeats to Lucien. He gave Lucien all the books that Lucien in turn passed on to Allen and Jack (Kerouac) and Bill (Burroughs) as the ethos of the “New Vision”, the founding principles of what would later become the Beat movement”.
Austin Bunn: “In terms of the poetry, we worked hard to create what I think of as seedlings of the writing they’ll do. For example, “first thought, best thought”. That’s very much a Kerouac credo and a Beat credo, and in the film it comes from Lucien Carr” [Editorial note, it’s original source is, of course, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and the dating comes, significantly, considerably later, tho,’ “poetic license” (sic), the film isn’t pretending to be a strict factual biography]
Interviewer Andrea Lawlor asks – “Were any poems particularly central to the development of the project?”
Austin Bunn: Hmmm.. I love talking about this. In high school, my best friend Mac,, the Lucien Carr in my life, gave me a copy of Ginsberg’s journals from the 1940’s and 1950’s. Ginsberg, as many poets are, was a terrific diarist. The Book of Martyrdom and Artifice is really rich and fascinating. You’re watching his mind at work. I can remember reading Allen Ginsberg’s poetry like a shameful secret I was sharing with this great writer about what it was like to be gay and what it was like to want to be an artist so badly. That poetry got me through my freshman year.
Bunn and Krokidas also speak of constructing a Ginsberg poem
Austin Bunn: “..In the dead center of this film is a first-draft poem by Allen. It’s his first yawp in the universe. And it was a challenge? What was the poem going to be? We knew we needed to see him clear his throat and prove that he had the talent Lucien had been looking for. Because that was fact: this Lucien Carr character convinced Ginsberg he had it in him..The first thing we did was to take a real poem, you could say, the first finished poem of Ginsberg’s, called “Hymn to the Virgin” (“Thou who art afraid to have me, lest thou lose me”). We had that in the script, and when it came time for the actors to read it, and for us to really get behind that dramatically, we realized it’s just really dense. And it’s Ginsberg trying to ape the lyric poets of the 19th Century [Editorial note – of the 17th Century and earlier? ], almost trying to impress (Louis) his dad. Literary accuracy or having the right footnote is a very different thing from cinematic an dramatic power”.
John Krokidas: And then the task we had before us, (and I think Austin did a fantastic job on this), was in keeping true to the style of an adolescent Ginsberg poem.
Austin Bunn: You think about Ginsberg, who he became, why we admire him, and it’s these confessional aesthetics, it’s the American vernacular imported into poetry. It’s raw and it’s direct. I found myself – and I have to say I really did think to myself, Art gods, forgive me for doing this – putting poetic language into Allen Ginsberg’s mouth. Like, my hero. I am writing an Allen Ginsberg poem. Now, to be totally fair, the language that you’re hearing in the film is from the early poems of Allen Ginsberg in Martyrdom and Artifice. We combed over those poems and looked for language and perspective and aesthetics for the language that ends up in the poem in the film. You’re looking at a pastiche. But we hope, and I believe, that it’s more dramatically effective and clear. And emotional.”
The above information, from one of the more insightful Radcliffe profiles, in the Jewish Journal
Radcliffe: “The mother relationship is always such a very important one for men, and particularly, it must be said, for Jewish men. The mother was such a strong figurehead in Jewish homes at the time and presumably must have been in the homes of Ginsberg’s friends”.
Krokidas, in the same article, takes up the point: “Ginsberg, at the time, was the dutiful son taking care of his emotionally ill mother, Naomi, and he was always he good boy. And yet in his journals and inside his own head, he believed he had so much more to offer the world than people assumed. I thought that Daniel Radcliffe the person might identify with that”.
“Yeah, Lucien’s a tricky one, because, I think Lucien worked so hard to make sure that this story was never told, and to make sure nobody ever found out about this story at least while he was living, the best he could. So, my responsibility is to honor this person by trying to figure out truthfully who they were at this point in their life, not necessarily how Lucien himself would want himself to be portrayed in the film but, trying to actually dig to the truth and the facts. And there is.. what’s great about playing a real person, like they [the rest of the cast] have already said, like, there’s real stuff out there. A lot of the work is kind of done for you, you just have to read it.”
Time, perhaps, once again, to provide a link to Bob Rosenthal’s dissenting voice – “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 this cannot be helped..but just as art is not allowed to depict boredom in a boring manner, it cannot depict callousness with boxing gloves on.”
“One time I asked Allen about a scroll he had hanging outside his kitchen in Boulder. He told me it’s the Prajnaparamitra Sutra – it’s known as the Diamond Sutra in English. Then he recited a piece of it in Sanskrit which he then translated, his hands in the air in front of his, as if he is conjuring from a text – “All composed things are like a dream/a phantom/a drop of dew, a flash of lightning”. Then to make sure I got it, he acted it out for me. “You know that passage in Kerouac where he’s staring into the bakery window, and he’s starving and he doesn’t have any money? He can see the pastries – they’re only separated by a thin sheet of glass he could break if he tried to – but he knows that he will never know those pastries, no matter how hungry or deserving he is. And yet their scent has woken in him a hunger for what he cannot have. The Prajnaparamitra Sutra is a warning to us that that’s what human life is like”.
“One day I was driving him back from a doctor’s appointment and he told me he was going to buy a bike and use it to get around Boulder. His Chinese doctor had encouraged him to get some exercise to rein in his high blood pressure. I laughed out loud. “You don’t think I will? You just wait! One day I’ll be riding around town and I’ll stop by and say hello!”. I never saw him ride it but there’s a self-portrait he took with his camera attached to that bicycle rack, I think.”
“He was very protective and supportive of his stepmother.(Edith) He would call her every weekend, even when he was traveling, and tell her all of the things he’d been up to lately – some international honor, a new book, that he was interviewed in New York magazine or Rolling Stone. And he would ask her about her life and make sure all her needs were taken care of – was she eating well, had she been out, who visited, who wrote, who called? Then he’d catch up on all the family and neighborhood gossip. He would put his feet up on the coffee table and pick at his teeth and talk to her at great length and laugh and joke with her – there was no sense of rush on Allen’s part at all, The call would last as long as she wanted it to, and during that time she had his complete attention.”
“I loved to watch Allen cook. He would wear a bib that went over his neck and tied around his middle. (Gregory) Corso used to call him “Granny Ginsberg”. He made a great baked chicken with whole quartered onions and chopped carrots and celery and whole medium-sized unpeeled potatoes and rosemary and garlic. When he took it out of the oven, it was an entire meal, everything ready at the same time, everything savory from the juices mixing together. And then after dinner he’d make chicken soup with the carcass and whatever was left over. But when Peter (Orlovsky) was there, the kitchen was his. Peter did the shopping, he did the cooking, he did the cleaning, he answered the phone and the door. Allen paid the bills.”
Maria Mazziotti Gillan‘s memory of Allen Ginsberg’s first appearance, “around 1980” at the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College – “I got a note from his agent”, Gillan recalls [Editorial note – that would be Bob Rosenthal]. “He wanted a modest bunch of flowers, a “regal chair”, a small table next to the chair with a teapot, a certain kind of tea, a certain kind of honey and a cup. And on the other side, a little table for his harmonium (he always played music while he was reading)”. When he arrived (in a three-piece charcoal suit instead of the expected dungarees, “He started screaming. The chair was no good for him. He can’t sit there. It’s bad for his kidneys.. I started trying to make the tea. He started screaming, “You’re going to spill it on me!” He was a little bit of a hypochondriac.” – But he was “Sharp. Really, very, very intelligent” – “The reason for (his) genius is that he’s off-the-wall. He had that Whitman-esque energy. What he did was throw out all the rules”. After that first disturbing encounter, he and Gillian made up. He returned to the Poetry Center many times in the ensuing decades.