Don't miss, in this week's Culture section, Paul Mariani's lively piece on working with the actor James Franco in a recent film adaptation of Mariani's own biography of the American poet Hart Crane. An excerpt...
This energy, this promise, this brilliance, this tragic dance that was Hart Crane’s short life, I have learned to my amazement, is what the young James Franco, now 32, has captured in his filming of The Broken Tower. Franco is a brilliant young actor who seems to have modeled himself after that icon of the 1950s, James Dean, even to the point of taking his first name and rendering Dean in a biopic. His portrayal of that tragic actor, who died in a car crash on a highway in central Califor-nia back in 1955, still awes me.
“If James says he’s going to do something,” Miles Levy, his agent, told me one August morning 20 months ago in a hotel down in Soho, “he does it.” I took that statement with a New Yorker’s grain of salt, but the truth is that—if James says he is going to do something, he does it. I’ve been lucky enough to work with him and his good friend Vince Jolivette, often via Blackberry and e-mails back and forth, forth and back, about every conceivable question under the sun, such as poets and biographers don’t normally deal with, but which actors and directors do—everything from translations of Catullus’s salty language (in the original Latin) to the Danish accent of Hart Crane’s lover, Emil Opffer, to the music Crane would have heard in Taxco as he beat the ancient Aztec drums in the broken tower of the Catholic cathedral there.
James recently flew into Boston’s Logan Airport on the red-eye out of Los Angeles, where he was picked up in a black limo by his driver and deposited at the Crowne Plaza in Newton, Mass., where I waited for him with three pots of coffee, skim milk, granola and fresh fruit. We sat down at once to business. We went over the most recent cut of the film—black and white, 100 minutes—that had been delivered to me the night before at my home 90 miles to the west. What about Robert Lowell’s take on the poet in his “Words for Hart Crane”? What was Lowell’s take on Crane’s homosexuality? What was Hart Crane’s vision of America, coming as it did 70 years after Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and the bloodletting of the Civil War and the Spanish-American War and World War I?