Allen Ginsberg is the man that made me love and write poetry. Not only did he introduce me to my biggest love, his opinions regarding literature, politics and sexuality often reflect my own, so to say that I revere him is an understatement.
Howl, the film about Ginsberg starring James Franco, is phenomenal. I was blown away by Franco’s ability to capture Ginsberg’s voice, intonation and mannerisms brilliantly. When I heard, then, that Daniel Radcliffe, master of wooden acting in the Harry Potter franchise and The Woman in Black, was taking on the role of my favourite poet, I was outraged. I’ve known about Kill Your Darlings for quite some time, and have been waiting for its release with trepidation. I expected that my experience of it would be riddled with disgust and a sardonic running commentary.
Contrary to popular belief, I like it when I’m proved wrong: just only when it’s for all the right reasons. Radcliffe was, quite honestly, great, and I’m not even ashamed to admit it. His accent was spot on (perhaps he didn’t quite reach Franco’s standard), and I was endeared by his performance of a young, impressionable Ginsberg.
What is Kill Your Darlings about, then? It follows Ginsberg after his acceptance into Columbia University, where he meets Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), an anti-establishment literary revolutionary, and some of the earliest members of the Beat Generation, including Jack Kerouac.
Of course, when you think of the Beat Generation, you think of sex, drugs and alcohol, and you get that in Kill Your Darlings: Ginsberg and co. write during Benzedrine binges, attend underground parties and never really seem to suffer from the consequences of their actions. It is common for this generation to glamorise the exploits of a former generation, but I do think that it is at least used carefully in this film: the glamorisation isn’t to the level of Great Gatsby, and the sex scenes are poignant, emotional and raw, not gratuitous.
These scenes, emotional or humorous (in fact, I was surprised at how much I laughed during this film) were carried by an incredible cast. DeHann, known for his appearance in The Place Beyond the Pines and his upcoming performance in The Amazing Spider Man 2, had incredible onscreen chemistry with Radcliffe; the sexual tension was palpable, and their bond was entirely believable. DeHaan’s angelic look is at odds with his character’s actions, and this only contributes to his allure.
Jack Huston also made an excellent Kerouac, embodying the man I have imagined since reading On the Road: at times he was excitable and frivolous; at others he handled the film’s more serious tone deftly. I also particularly enjoyed Ben Foster’s portrayal of William S. Burroughs; it was a far cry from his disturbing (but excellent) performance in Alpha Dog, indicating his talent. Michael C. Hall made a superb David Kammerer: he was unnerving and frustrating. It is easy to overstep the line when playing an obsessive character, but Hall handled it very well.
While the film concerns a literary movement, this is actually a film with love at its core – however clichéd that sounds. The film explores the difficulty of being homosexual – not only socially, but within the eyes of the law – and the troubled nature of relationships. The writers’ possible addiction to drugs is mirrored in their addiction to one another: romantically or intellectually, the friends become embroiled in difficult and messy relationships, to the extent that their morals are incredibly questionable.
Circles play an important role in this film, so the fact that the film’s structure and shots reflect this subtly is a display of the craftsmanship behind it: scenes are often played in reverse, and then replayed to mimic the movement of a spinning record. On the subject of music, the film’s soundtrack is excellently selected, mixing 1940s jazz, classical and modern songs (which didn’t actually feel anachronistic at all).
I was pleasantly surprised by Kill Your Darlings. I thought that I would have to compare it to Howl, and that Howl would inevitably win. However, I have now realised that to do so would be unfair: these films are entirely different and attempt to achieve something utterly unalike. This is a film that is beautifully and intelligently shot and features some excellent actors. It is an accolade when a film makes it onto my DVD shelf; I think Kill Your Darlings will be joining Howl very soon.
By Jenna Clake