Saturday, March 9, 2013

Hart Beat: "Hart Crane: An Exegesis" (2012)

In order to educate film goers on the poet Hart Crane, and hype his biopic "The Broken Tower", writer/director/actor James Franco sits down via Skype with three university instructors and talks shop. Only English nerds need apply.

Hart Crane was a poet who came of age during the Roaring Twenties, writing dense, often difficult verse before committing suicide at the age of 32 by jumping into the Gulf of Mexico. He was an open homosexual with an alcohol problem, and is now more appreciated than when he was alive. Franco became fascinated with Crane's writing in college ("The Broken Tower" is a graduate thesis film), and while he looks nothing like Crane, he took on the poet's story.

Franco, who balances his roles in mainstream fare in order to pursue pet projects like this, picks the brains of the three professors (Alan Williamson, Paul Mariani, and Langdon Hammer) about Crane's motivations behind the major events in his life, and eventual death. Influences on Crane, like T.S. Eliot and Walt Whitman, are touched upon, and the interviews are edited together along with footage from Franco's film.

The casual viewer may still wonder what all the fuss is about with Crane. Even I, a former English major, finds his verse to be dense and often difficult. Franco and the professors try to shed light on their subject, you can see a genuine affection for the writer in all of their questions and answers, but they often bring up even more questions than they can answer. After a while, even the praise of Franco and his film gets to be a bit much, but this short (48 minutes) piece of video is a welcome departure from the usual "behind the scenes" fluff pieces that are standard on video releases these days.

"Hart Crane: An Exegesis" is probably only of interest to Franco's classmates, snobbish film types, poetry fans, and Hart Crane fanatics. I find myself in a couple of those categories, and recommend this documentary. Let it be noted that I did watch this before viewing the feature "The Broken Tower," so I can see if this helped in my understanding of Franco's film... (* * * *) out of five stars.