Standing in front of a packed audience in theatre 1 at the IFC in lower Manhattan, Mr. James Franco declares, “If you are expecting to see ‘Pineapple Express’…this is not that.” Let me take a second to really emphasize this declaration, this is most assuredly not that.
“The Broken Tower”, based on the Paul L. Mariani, identically titled biography of Hart Crane, is an extremely serious piece of filmmaking. Some critics referring to it as a docudrama or biopic. It is actually easier to first tell you what it is not. It is not a visual biography, it is not a History Channel special of a life’s work, when the end credits role, you will not be an expert in the life and times of Harold Hart Crane. You will, however, walk out of the theatre feeling as if you have actually met the man. What Mr. Franco has accomplished here is akin to “reality-cinema filmed through a time machine.” The 99 minutes of the film are broken up into 12 sections or sequences aptly named “Voyages” (referencing the title of of a series of Crane’s erotic poems). These “Voyages” play out like flashbacks, some even of the acid variety. The images on the screen often shot with a hand held camera take you inside the mind of the poet, whether you’re happy to be there through the duration or not.
Harold Hart Crane (born July 21, 1899 – died April 27,1932) was an American poet and a fucking important one. In his 32 tormented years of existence, his work and his very life influenced a generation of poets including Williams, Berryman, Lowell, Kerouac, Ginsberg and on and on. He is now seen as one of the most influential poets of his generation.
James Edward Franco (born April 19, 1978) is an American actor, writer, artist, filmmaker and poet. You see, that is just what “The Broken Tower” is…a living poem honoring an iconic poet and clearly Franco’s work of passion that may even be laced with obsession. He does not portray Hart Crane, he absolutely becomes Hart Crane. I would imagine that having spent close to a decade studying the man, stepping into his shoes would become second nature.
In September of 2008, Gentleman’s Quarterly magazine proclaimed James Franco, the next James Dean. I have loved James Dean for as long as I can remember and perhaps even more so after he subtly hinted at the possibility of being bisexual, quite courageous at that time. As Crane would say, “people can know everything about you when you’re dead”. Anyway, I too see many similarities between these two men. James Dean was a tremendous actor as well as immensely intellectual. James Franco is a tremendous actor as well as immensely intellectual. Taken from us at the age of 24, we never had the opportunity to see just how far Mr. Dean could go. Mr. Franco, I pray we have for decades upon decades to come for he is using all of his talents wisely as he has once again proved here. I’ve never met James Dean, however, I have studied his life and life’s work a great deal and would argue that maybe without even knowing it, Mr. Franco created a role that Mr. Dean would have absolutely begged to audition for.
“The Broken Tower” might not be for everyone and not everyone will “get it”. That in my opinion is ok, for if you do find that in fact you don’t “get it”, likely it simply was not meant for you. My advice….see it and find out.
PS The casting of Michael Shannon….pure genius.