Film Review: Kill Your Darlings

Kill Your Darlings, the directorial debut from John Krokidas, swiftly draws us into the creation of the Beat movement and the murder which thrust Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac onto the path of literary and cultural revolution. Daniel Radcliffe stars as Allen Ginsberg, whose freshman year at Columbia begins as his mother’s fragile mental health deteriorates.

While the film takes some liberties with the libertine set’s involvement in the murder of David Kammerer, a compatriot of Burrough’s who was enamored with Ginsberg’s friend/crush Lucien Carr, the taut, painful coming age story lays bare the era’s anti-Semitism and homophobia, blowing apart the stultifying academic and social mores that the Beats–who originally dubbed themselves the New Vision–sought to overthrow. (It is worth noting that many cultural forces that cause change have sprung from the death of one of a specific circle: Stu Sutcliffe and Brian Jones come to mind–the energies unleashed postmortem propel societal change forward. Freaky? Makes me go all Golden Bough/Wicker Man). And Kammerer’s  murder was the explosion that thrust the Beats into their creative maelstrom.

Still, despite the shift of certain facts and chronologies, Kill Your Darlings–which takes its title from a quote attributed to William Faulkner, who repurposed it from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s On the Art of Writing (1916)

Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it–whole-heartedly–and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings

–seduces and inspires with language, camera, production design, and the force of the actors’ talent. The ecstatic scenes in a jazz club, Ginsberg’s fevered writings and yearnings for Carr, a library break-in, Kerouac’s home life, and the collision of sex, death and drugs at the film’s climax, all unfurl in passionate vision.

At the start, and throughout the film, Carr’s murder of Kammerer weighs heavily. Kammerer is in love with Carr, and Carr is dependent on him to write his papers for school, as well as possibly for his life force. Perhaps Carr has drained Kammerer of his own originality and taken the older man’s ideas of literary revolution as his own, that concept is left bubbling beneath the surface. Carr is a tortured young man with ideas he cannot express and he turns to Ginsberg to help him shatter the prison walls of convention (and he hopes, prison).  Carr seeks new sensations, new words, new worlds, constantly pushing and luring Ginsberg to more and more dangerous adventures, then cajoling and manipulating him into writing his defense statement.

Played by Dane DeHaan, Lucien Carr is a young, half-formed Lucifer, damned forever, capable of getting others to do for him close to,  but never perfectly, what he wants, and is unable to do himself. (In real life, Carr served 18 months  in a reformatory after claiming an “honor killing,” that is, the mid-20th century heterosexual self defense against an obsessed homosexual, to use the terms of that time; he spent the rest of his life as an editor at UPI, an appropriate end).

The characters of Kill Your Darlings embrace sex, drugs, thrills, and emotional, psychological and physical violence as means to liberation, to break the circle. Breaking the circle, disrupting the cycle of life, is a theme that recurs throughout Kill Your Darlings, drawn from Carr’s fascination with William Butler Yeats’ essays in automatic writing,  A Vision (thus the name of Carr’s nascent literary movement, New Vision) And with Kammerer’s murder, Lucien Carr did break the circle, the circle of friends, the cycle of life. The New Vision circle  reformed as the Beats, fiercely birthing the counterculture, and within that restructured shape shattered the literary and societal norms through to this day.

While director/producer and co-writer (with Austin Bunn) John Krokidas told the Hollywood Reporter:

I want young audiences to know that the world is theirs and they can make their stamp. It’s time for them to start their own revolution

hopefully it will come without circle-shattering traumas like that which ended Kammerer’s tormented life.

Kill Your Darlings, rated R, opens October 18. Starring Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg; Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr; Michael C. Hall as David Kammerer;  Ben Foster as William Burroughs; Jack Huston as Jack Kerouac; David Cross as Lewis Ginsberg; Jennifer Jason Leigh as Naomi Ginsberg; Elizabeth Olsen as Edie Parker; Kyra Sedgwick as Marian Carr.

Late Night: The Cosmos Is Unstable, Professor Over-Proves

 


 
Guess what? The cosmos, like Victoria Jackson and life itself, is probably inherently unstable. Most of us probably already know that instinctively without needing the Large Hadron Collider to prove it.

I once had a teacher in high school, Jim Hosney, who wanted to teach a course in existentialism where there would be no rhyme or reason as to why people got the which grades that day. That concept might not have gone over real well at an all-girl prep school where eating disorders and substance abuse seemed to be part of the curriculum.

Hosney was a brilliant and challenging social history teacher who showed us films like The Beguiled, Weekend, and The Devils. Hosney’s methods thankfully had nothing on this professor of quantum mechanics, apparently a frustrated (and very bad) performance artist, who began his lecture by saying:

in order to learn quantum mechanics, you have to strip to your raw, erase all the garbage from your brain and start over again. … Everything you do in your everyday life is totally opposite of what you are going to learn in quantum mechanics.

 

 

A science professor at Columbia University on Monday began a quantum mechanics lecture by stripping into his boxers and eating a banana while rap music played in the background….The professor, Emlyn Hughes, proceeded to redress himself in black, complete with sunglasses, and hug himself on stage at the front of the classroom, a large theater.

As Hughes sat in the fetal position, two “actors” dressed in ninja costumes walked onstage and placed white stuffed animals – lambs – on stools before the audience, according to a student-recorded video of the incident posted on Vimeo.com by “Bwog,” a campus news website run by Columbia students.

The ninjas blindfolded the lambs, then a ninja impaled one of the stuffed animals with a long sword and banged it against the stool – right as an image of a plane hitting one of the Twin Towers on 9/11 started rolling on a large screen behind the performance…

After the lamb’s grisly “death” and the images of 9/11, the footage turned into a montage that included clips of Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and Hitler – as well as numerous shots of war images – tanks rolling, bombs exploding, people hanging upside-down, troops marching, and the like.

 
Weekend, Jean-Luc Goddard:

The Beguiled:

The Devils:

Facing Pricey Tutition, Ivy League Students Work for Higher Education

God Bless America! When faced with the rising tuition costs,  frat boys at a posh I.V. League University turned to capitalism and market economy in order to make their dream of higher education come true.

Higher is right: These hep cats were dealing LSD and cocaine.

Just like the old days at Barrington Hall.  Onngh Yanngh!


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