Saturday, April 26, 2014

Darlings Killed

If you've been with me for a while, you know that I am obsessed with The Beats. Burroughs mostly, but Ginsberg. Kerouac some, too, but not quite as much as the others. Naked Lunch and Howl touched my life much more than On the Road.
So, of course, I am very interested in movies about The Beats as well as adaptations of their works. The most recent, you may know, is Kill Your Darlings, starring Daniel Radcliffe and Dane DeHaan. It covers the period that (to my knowledge) none of the other films have covered, Lucien Carr's murder of David Kammerer. Needless to say, I was extremely excited to see it.
And it's okay. Not mindblowing, but okay. Some of the moments hit like a hammer. Overall, though? Some of the other films have been better.
So, for this month's blog entry, I thought I'd do a personal ranking/recommendation for the films that I like. Quick note, though--I don't include the documentaries, here. The Beat Hotel, The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs: A Man Within are all magnificent and cannot be ranked. See them immediately.
Kill Your Darlings actually winds up being at the bottom of my list, actually. Radcliffe and DeHaan try very hard, but the material suffers from a kind of lack of poetic-ness. See it as a rental, but don't buy the Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack. I will say this, though (and you'll see it's a theme)--Ben Foster's William Burroughs is fucking masterful.
Next up from there I would rank the 2012 adaptation of On The Road from director Walter Salles. Remember that novel is basically a Roman a Clef, so it is technically about Kerouac and Ginsberg meeting Neal Cassaday. Viggo Mortensen's Old Bull Lee, the cypher for Burroughs, is amazing; maybe not quite as good as Ben Foster's, but still quite good.
David Cronenberg's film adaptation of Naked Lunch is a masterwork. Remember that some characters from the novel are cyphers for Ginsberg and Kerouac, and so they are present in the film in ways. This thing is a mindbender, filled (just like the novel) with terrible things visualized beautifully. The typewriter/beetle/ sex organ metaphor alone makes this film a must-see for any writer. Peter Weller as the Bill Lee character, a cypher for Burroughs, delivers the best Burroughs of all the films. So much so that I cannot read any Burroughs after seeing it without hearing Weller as the narrative voice. Watch it and then go read Junky or Queer and see if the same thing doesn't happen to you.
2010's Howl is almost as good as it gets. The perfect mixing of poetry and actual fact. Franco knocks it out of the park and nails Ginsberg. He somehow captures Ginsberg's spirit without doing merely an imitation.
Finally, best of all from my point of view, is 2000's Beat from director Gary Wolkow. This is a historical drama firing on all cylinders. Kiefer Sutherland's Burroughs is the gold standard. Ron Livingston's Ginsberg was the best I'd ever seen until Franco's, and still holds up as amazing. Norman Reedus' Lucien Carr is captivating (and, physically, he looks a lot like Lucien Carr). See this movie even if you're not all that interested in The Beats.
You can kind of assemble the films into a timeline, too. Watch Kill Your Darlings, then On the Road, then Beat, then Howl, then Naked Lunch and you'll have a sort-of history of The Beats in a way.
What do you think? Have you seen these movies? Would you rank them the same?

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