Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sundance ’13: Kill Your Darlings

In 1944, by a confluence of fate, the leading lights of the Beat movement assembled together around Columbia University, including Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and Lucien Carr.  There is a reason you might not recognize the latter name.  Poetry and scandal mix freely in the Beat origin story dramatized in John Krokidas’s Kill Your Darlings, which screens during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival in Park City.

Allen Ginsburg is certain poetry is his calling.  His sexuality is another matter.  Arriving at Columbia, his Jewish background automatically sets him apart as an outsider.  His resistance to aesthetic orthodoxy establishes his credibility with Carr, the campus literary rebel.  Soon Ginsburg is visiting jazz clubs, sampling Benzedrine with their mutual friend Burroughs, and pining for the androgynous Carr.

Ginsburg is not the only one carrying a torch for Carr.  Former professor David Kammerer appears to exert some sort of malevolent emotional hold on his ambiguous friend, which Carr increasingly resents.  Since Darlings starts in media res, viewers realize this will all end in tragedy.

Known to a scruffy handful of fans for a series of British films about boarding school students dabbling in the occult, Daniel Radcliffe is serviceably nebbish as Ginsburg.  At least he looks like a confused kid.  However, Ben Foster is almost worth the price of admission by himself, nailing not just the Burroughs drawl, but also his eccentric cadences and precise demeanor.  Unfortunately, Jack Huston’s Kerouac is 100% meathead and 0% poet.  Still, even though he looks like he stepped out of a fashion commercial, Dane DeHaan is convincingly dissolute as Carr.

Darlings is a decent period production, featuring some swinging tracks from Vince Giordano.  Frustratingly, music comes dead last in the closing credits, well after the caterers and the drivers, even though it contributes far more to the overall viewing experience.  What would Ginsburg and Kerouac say about that?  However, the colorless underscore is a truly baffling creative decision.  David Amram is still at the top of his game and has considerable experience scoring films.  Had Darling brought him onboard they would have had an apostolic connection to the Beat Generation.  That’s his music in Pull My Daisy, after all.  Instead, they opted for the light classical approach.

Indeed, Darlings represents a series of missed opportunities.  Foster is terrific and the mid-1940’s New York vibe is appealing.  It even has Sledgehammer!’s David Rasche as the Dean of Columbia.  Nonetheless, the film’s lurid preoccupation with Carr’s sex life becomes tiresome.  More music and more poetry would have made it a stronger work.  Mostly of interest to earnest Ginsburg and Burroughs fans, Kill Your Darlings screens again today (1/22), tomorrow (1/23), and Friday (1/25) in Park City as part of this year’s Sundance.