April 12, 2014

Teenage Ginsberg

Kill Your Darlings (John Krokidas, 2013). Daniel Radcliffe’s Allen Ginsberg is timid, a bystander, in a film that is a prequel even to the previous literary prequels (Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, Epstein and Friedman’s Howl and Salles’ On the Road) that used the most important fictions to tell early Beat history. This is New York, 1944. Young Columbia University student Ginsberg finds a way in to the bohemian demi-monde via the more experienced and wilder fellow student Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan, a discovery). Brideshead meets Rimbaud. The true subject of the film is Carr’s relationship with the older, obsessed David Kammerer (Michael C Hall), which ended in a sensational murder; around that event, Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs slowly emerge as their public and pre-published selves. The latter two are flatly impersonated by Jack Huston (Kerouac) and a very dry Ben Foster (Burroughs) but Radcliffe is a greater let-down. DeHaan aside, this small but fascinating slice of social and cultural history is mostly undone by its poor casting. And that’s before we get to Jennifer Jason Leigh as Naomi Ginsberg, rattling around wide-eyed in the attic. (Beats on the roof, from left: Foster as Burroughs, Radcliffe as Ginsberg, DeHaan as Carr and Huston as Kerouac.)