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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