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James Franco's Hart Crane biopic, 'The Broken Tower' [video]

January 12, 2012 | 10:05 am

One of the first literary properties that James Franco gobbled up was the biography of poet Hart Crane, "The Broken Tower" by Paul Mariani. I admit, I didn't know much about Crane -- I hadn't encountered his poetry, and he'd died long before I was born -- but I was curious.

That curiosity was sparked by the profile of Crane in Evan Hughes' enjoyable history of writers and place, "Literary Brooklyn," published last year. I learned that Crane was a handsome, ambitious and (mostly) gay poet in the 1920s whose involvement with the wife of the editor of "The New Republic" was something of a literary scandal. In 1932, while the two were returning to the U.S. from Mexico on a steamship, Crane threw himself over the rail and was lost at sea.

"The Broken Tower" is the title of both the biography and one of Crane's last poems. It is also the name of Franco's film, which Hughes watched for Slate. He writes:

So step right up for New York in the Jazz Age, epic benders, artistic friendships with boldface names, love affairs, back-alley fights, and, finally, a suicide at sea. OK, so Crane also wrote really difficult poetry — leave that out of the pitch meeting.

Sadly, however, the movie that Franco made from this material is incredibly dull....

Franco has remained faithful to the facts of Crane’s life (the few exceptions are very minor), but most viewers will have a hard time figuring out what those facts are — and why they have any significance. The protagonist jumps from place to place, often without explanation, and the skips forward in time often occur without badly needed allusions to what has happened in the intervening period.

The film is episodic, in black and white, and loosely structured around Crane's poem. When it screened at the L.A. Film Festival in June, Franco said his goal was to film in a way that would “reflect the style of Crane’s writing,” and to let the audience “feel the texture” of his words.

"The Broken Tower" was released this week on demand and for digital download.

RELATED:

James Franco signs publishing deal with Amazon

Book review: "Literary Brooklyn" by Evan Hughes

James Franco talks poetry and film

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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