Wednesday, September 11, 2013

TIFF 2013: Kill Your Darlings

Radcliffe and DeHana as Ginsberg and Carr
Kill Your Darlings (2013) directed by John Krokidas, 100 minutes, VISA Screening Room, 2.30p

The murder of David Kammerer by Lucien Carr in 1944 has always fascinated followers of the Beats almost as much as Carr seemed to entrance the poets and writers Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. This first time director John Krokidas has hit all the right notes in trying to capture the heady times in the 1940s Manhattan before Kammerer's death. 

Krokidas spoke after the film of this being a ten year old dream, first conceived when he was a university student himself. Charming, self-effacing and funny, it was intriguing to hear how as a gay teen he felt alienated and fearful of coming out in his Connecticut hometown and he was inspired by Ginsberg's poetic honesty and passion.

Here John Krokidas succeeds beautifully in exploring the still closeted Ginsberg's intense feelings for Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) that he dare not act on. Ginsberg (an amazingly affective Daniel Radcliffe) is a not particularly affluent but highly intelligent teenager from Paterson, NJ whose father is a well respected poet Louis Ginsberg (David Cross) and whose mother Naomi Ginsberg is mentally ill (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and suffers from paranoid delusions that her husband is spying on her and trying to keep her trapped in the house.

The film is beautiful to behold and vividly evocative of the wonder Ginsberg must have felt in entering this new world - some of it sordid, some of it ugly - all of it new, all of it exciting. 

Allen escapes to Columbia University and becomes ensnared by the emotionally manipulative Lucien. Lucien has his own issues - stalked by David Kammerer (Michael C.Hall), an older gay man, since his teens. Kammerer follows the boy from city to city as his frantic mother tries to remove him from Kammerer's influence. Allen soon comes to know Kerouac (Jack Huston), a recently released as a seaman in WWII and aspiring writer, and Burroughs, a bizarre if talented fellow student. 

This somewhat unholy trio introduces the eager Ginsberg to jazz, the West Village, Christopher St. (where his new Columbia roommate cheerily tells him "all the fairies go"), the work of Henry Miller, racially integrated speakeasies and hallucinogenic drugs.

Not only is there a sexual awakening but a new way of viewing poetry, art, literature encapsulated by a movement they describe as "New Vision". Ginsberg challenges a Columbia professor on his definition of art and literature. Fuelled by bennies or lust or freedom, he forges a new path ... a path that might bewilder some but enraptures others, others that know what it means to feel passion and rebellion and love, sometimes unrequited, but love nonetheless.

The film begins and ends with the murder of Kammerer. He was stabbed with a pen knife, bound and thrown still alive into Hudson River by Carr, for, allegedly, his predatory behavior towards Carr. Ginsberg is expelled for a fiction piece based on the murder that is deemed smutty and inappropriate by the university; Lucien goes to prison (he served less than two years for the murder); Kerouac enters another kind of prison, a marriage he doesn't want in exchange for being bailed out by his girlfriends' parents when he is accused of being an accessory to the murder. 

The old gang breaks up ... for a while ... but the legend lives on.

Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – wholeheartedly – and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings. ~ Arthur Quiller-Couch
Director Krokidas at the Q&A

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