The Broken TowerHD Closed Captioning
Open iTunes to preview, buy, and download this movie.
From Focus Features, the premiere global brand in original and daring cinema, comes FOCUS WORLD. Charged with finding the most exciting voices in international and independent film, Focus World is proud to bring you THE BROKEN TOWER, from writer / director James Franco. Hart Crane was one of the most important voices in American poetry - but lived a life with as much turmoil as passion. From his early life to his journeys from New York, Cuba, and Paris, Crane's story and that of the loves that defined him is told with imaginative empathy, and with a no holds barred performance - in a film as introspective, rebellious, heartbreaking, and honest as Crane himself.
Rotten Tomatoes Movie Reviews
- Reviews Counted: 10
- Fresh: 2
- Rotten: 8
- Average Rating: 5.0/10
Top Critics' Reviews
Rotten: Despite earnest attempts, Mr. Franco can't bring the fervency of Crane's poetry to life in the extensive recitations.
Rotten: Though clearly besotted with Crane's poetry, the writer-director-star never achieves full immersion in the man's life or work; the sense is of people playing a very cerebral game of dress-up.
Rotten: Not a heady experience like many of the semi-experimental 1960s films he emulates. Instead, it's mostly a tedious chore, much akin to listening poetry you don't much like.
Rotten: Sincere, amateurish, and misguided.
Why am I just now hearing about this?
I think James Franco is brilliant. I will watch anything this dork is in.
"Rabbi Crane will do it with a positive affirmation."
***Alert: some spoilers contained herein - but if one knows the life of Crane then these are not so revealing).***
Such is a healthy attitude for a despondent artist. It is one of the few bright spot seen shimmering from Crane in this biopic. James Franco takes Hart Crane's words - poetry and letters - and uses them as a backdrop for the evolution of a writer of promise cut down by his own wretched soul. At least that is how Crane comes off.
Before I watched this flick I re-acquainted myself with Crane's verse; then I kept his book at hand during the film - which helped me keep interested in the movie. Franco manages to take the best of Crane - his poetry - and make it as bland as boiled chicken. There is one scene with Crane reading his work - rather than infuse the passion seen elsewhere in the film emanating from Crane - Franco chooses to recite the poems with no heart. The crowd's reaction to the second of the poems ('For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen') is understandable given the content and how Franco drones as Crane. The man's poetry needs to be read and sifted through several times before it feel accessible in some small way and Francdo blew a great opportunity to get his fans - who might not otherwise read any verse - interested in poetry. Granted, the rest of the film has me wanting to delve deeper into Crane's bio and his work. But I am most likely an anomaly in this respect, as I, too, am a poet and a teacher of literature. Still, with a positive attitude toward what is shown and read of Crane someone could become entranced with his work and also want to read more of it.
As for the filmmaking aspect, there are many issues there: handheld cameras make for unsteady viewing, seemingly random pick-up shots are meant to set scenes, and a windscreen was sorely needed for the microphone used to collect audio in several shots. An interesting approach is used to show the leap from younger Crane to the (slightly) older Crane played by Franco - using the aforementioned sporadic shots. It is filmed almost entirely in black and white (which is what one might expect from this sort of film, artsy and so-forth). Colour does work its way in during a trip to the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris - but it had me screaming for the return to B&W since the cameras employed could not handle the natural interior lighting of the church, therefore showing the limitations of the production. Perhaps Franco thoguht this approach would show the beauty of the place and highlight the impact it had on Crane; however, the camera's constant trying to adjust its 'eye' to the setting took me out of the film.
The story is unfolded through a series of "Voyages" (fitting, as the film ends with an excerpt from Crane's so-named poem and that it is on a sea-vessel that the poet chose to end his life). Title cards offer the subject in each 'Voyage' and the section reflects this accordingly: which helps one follow Crane's overall voyage.
Franco manages to show the tortured artist trying to support himself and create poetry - but is ultimately unable to do both. Grants and fellowships are the godsend for any artist to contribute his verse to the world and that Crane enjoys both and is able to write is evident. Malaise works its way into his psyche and builds along the way to show the viewer what led to Crane's demise.
The much-hyped oral pleasure scene seems unnecessary - yes, Crane was gay. There were better ways to make this known (as Franco shows in other parts of the movie) without having to resort to such a cheap ploy for shock value.
There is a scene where Crane - frustrated by finding out his financial situation is hopeless, vents his feelings in his room; while I get the emotion, Franco falls short in expressing the way Crane would have felt. This stems, perhaps, in Franco himself never feeling denied anything he truly wanted so he is unable to display the rage a truly tormented artist would vent when going from simmering anger to a boiling cauldron of virulence in an instant.
Michael Shannon appears in a minor, yet major role, but his character hardly speaks and comes, then goes, and comes then goes again so quickly that such a power of talent (he alone propelled 'The Runaways' forward and made that flick worth watching) never gets a chance to make an impact.
Overall, the movie is ambitious and Franco does a righteous job of adapting the source material employed (Crane's poetry and Paul Mariani's 'The Broken Tower: The Life of Hart Crane') into a watchable slice of celluloid. The build-up of a creative genius torn apart by knowing his own abilities are wrecked by external factors is shown rather well.
Takes you outside of yourself.
If you have an artistic bent you will no doubt find this movie visceral, existential, and important. Franco is proving himself an artistic force. I personally don't understand the naysayers but that is only testament to the polarizing nature of art. I was mesmerized by the visuals, stimulated by the poetry, generally entertained, and moved on a profound level. This movie is not for everybody, but will absolutely connect with the right sort of person. I found myself comparing it to Tree of Life.