The Broken Tower, James Franco’s Docudrama On “Difficult” Poet Hart Crane: A Preview

Above, you’ll find a short trailer for The Broken Tower, a film about Hart Crane: candy-fortune scion, hard-drinking sexual adventurer, narrowly appreciated poet, and suicide victim at 32. The motion picture industry loves to dramatize this sort of literary life, although it tends to choose literary figures whose legacies have, in the fullness of time, accrued them a reasonable popularity. But Crane, though often seen as a more optimistic counterpart in modernism to T.S. Eliot, lacks almost all of Eliot’s name recognition outside scholarly circles. Part of this has to do with his notoriously “difficult” verbal style, which has made him nearly synonymous with a certain strain of poetic complexity. Allen Grossman once gave a lecture at the University of Chicago called “On Communicative Difficulty in General and ‘Difficult’ Poetry in Particular: The Example of Hart Crane’s ‘The Broken Tower.'” (The title name-checks the posthumously published biographical poem from which the new picture takes its name.) Even Tennessee Williams, a known fan of Crane’s work, said he could “hardly understand a single line” of it — adding that, of course, “the individual lines aren’t supposed to be intelligible.”

James Franco not only stars in The Broken Tower, but wrote, directed, and produced the film as well. Perhaps I need hardly mention that, since Franco makes no effort (and the media even less) to conceal his literary-academic interests and penchant for following several artistic pursuits at all times. The Broken Tower began as his NYU master’s thesis, went on to play at the Los Angeles Film Festival, and has very recently entered limited theatrical release. The clip above, taken from the Q&A at the picture’s Boston College premiere, features both Franco and Paul Mariani, author of The Broken Tower: The Life of Hart Crane, the biography that galvanized Franco’s fascination with Crane as he read it on the set of 2002’s Sonny. After hearing both men describe how the grim yet optimistic, resistant yet compelling wordscape of Hart Crane drew them in, don’t be surprised if you feel the impulse to do some research of your own.

(See also: Hart Crane’s poems on

Related content:

James Franco Reads Short Story in Bed for The Paris Review

The Book Trailer as Self-Parody: Stars Gary Shteyngart with James Franco Cameo

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

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