Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Kill Your Darlings
It has often been said that much of the Beat Generation's literary work (particularly Burroughs' Naked Lunch and Kerouac's On the Road) would be "unfilmable". Critics have eaten crow in various quantities as that has now come to pass, albeit with various degrees of success. "Naked Lunch" was a visual and occasionally daring half joke with some fine provocative episodes, though it seemed a bit too self -conscious, while "On the Road" clunked by with a whistle instead of an engine roar.
Thankfully all is not lost.
Director John Krokidas, known for his quirky short films gives us a richly episodic and dramatic expose on Allen Ginsberg and his relationship with Lucien Carr when he was a Columbia freshman in the 1940s. The film, "Kill Your Darlings" pulses with energy. It is neither lagging or self-conscious. Better yet, it is completely free of pretension and there is no clunkiness present. In a bold and absurdist-seeming casting move, Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) stars as Allen in all his be-speckled and earnest nervousness and it works. Allen's black rimmed, iconic glasses are spastic with unbridled motion.
Rather than play Ginsberg as he was to the tee, Radcliffe plays him with a blend of comedy and sincerity borrowing a bit from Hogwarts to make it a personal and completely believable interpretation.
We see Ginsberg sequestered with his father in Paterson, New Jersey, dancing alone seeking his own language of kinetic motion.
Despite the pressure of comforting his ill mother ( Jennifer Jason-Leigh) Ginsberg is accepted to Columbia and goes to New York City.
Ginsberg is catapulted into a vortex of pharmaceutical phantasmagoria and creativity unlike anything he witnessed before.
Forgoing a staid sequence of events, the camera becomes a whirlwind, popping with vibration and revealing dark amber swirls in chiaroscuro---all the better to highlight this circle of nightshade men in all their amphibious glee. Here is the pale Lucien Carr with aluminum eyes (Dane DeHaan) his pupils constricted in the desire of a snake. And the outwardly tight-clothed and graveyard-voiced William Burroughs whose family invented the adding machine. He is invariably shown here connected to some narcotic machine with echoes of Dennis Hopper or the painter Otto Dix.
Last but not least, we have the edgy and earthy Kerouac who is physically loud and reckless with a stuntman's verve that predates Johnny Knoxville's antics by almost a century now.
"Kill Your Darlings" mainly focuses on the character of Carr and Ginsberg's unabashed attraction to him. Dane DeHaan is almost perfect in his embodiment of Carr, who moves through many an umber-paneled library like an ocelot in silver. In many ways Carr is portrayed as a melting of Lord Alfred Douglas and Tom Ripley.
The excitement of the film is that it never takes itself all that seriously. The roles (including a doomed and sad David Kammerer, played by Michael C. Hall) display an emotional, often unbound energy that gives a new body and rhythm to what might have been---in other hands---another stale biopic of the past.
In "Kill Your Darlings" (to its credit) there is something of the Beats' aim of "first thought, best thought"-- a beam of Benzedrine in shadow and light.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org