Poetry News

James Franco's Hart Crane Experiment Tests Patience of LA Film Fest Audience

By Harriet Staff

The reviews are in! It's graphic and messy! After the Los Angeles Film Festival premiere of The Broken Tower, James Franco's "small, experimental film" about the life of poet Hart Crane, Franco set up a talkback, billed as "An Evening with James Franco." Apparently the audience had just undergone somewhat of an endurance challenge, and maybe even learned little about the poet: "The film moves deliberately and cuts abruptly, and is more interested in long recitations and lengthy shots of Crane walking, writing, reading and staggering around than it is in sketching the details of the poet's life." As Hollywood's The Wrap writes:

As Franco himself pointed out, "The Broken Tower" also contains two scenes apt to stir up a lot of discussion. One is a 10-minute sequence in which the action stops and we stay on Crane's face as he reads the entirety of his long, thorny poem "For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen."

The second is an oral sex scene between Crane and another man that at one point gets so explicit as to all but guarantee an NC-17 rating. (Though the scene is dimly lit, it clearly shows Franco performing oral sex on what is reportedly a prosthetic penis.) . . .

The problem is that even with those two conversation-starting scenes, "The Broken Tower" is going to be a tough sit for many viewers. What starts out as slow, meditative, lyrical and impressionistic eventually becomes an endurance test of sorts -- a brave, bold experiment that plays like something between an intellectual exercise and an aimless mess.

The Wrap also gets into the talkback, which found Franco interviewed by RISD professor Francisco Ricardo, who called the film a "masterpiece" for approx seven minutes.

When Franco finally got a chance to talk, he quoted W.H. Auden, said his film...was inspired by Godard's "My Life to Live" and by the Dardenne brothers, and mentioned that he's getting degrees in literature and in poetry.

He also said that making small, experimental films is "so much more fun" than working on mainstream commercial movies.

"Crane himself said, 'If I have just six good readers, that's enough for me,'" Franco noted, before admitting that his ambitions went a little further than that. "I don't want just six viewers, but I do know that this is not conventional entertainment". . . .

When asked by an audience member what drew him to Crane, Franco said it was "his spirit and his drive," and admitted that he didn't exactly grasp all the poetry at the heart of the movie he'd just shown.

"It's pretty difficult," he said of Crane's work. "It's difficult for me. We did that long, 10-minute reading, and I couldn't tell you what it means."

Wuh-oh. The entire review can be read here.

Originally Published: June 22nd, 2011