Paul Mariani on James Franco on Hart Crane

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?

Read the rest here.

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7 years ago
Arnold - If the post was a poem or about a book of poems, I would have commented on the poem or book of poems, or not commented at all.  This post is about a film about a man's life, and I commented on one of the topics expressly mentioned in the film's review: the poet's homosexuality, apparently the defining aspect of the poet's life and work.
7 years ago
I don't think anyone intends to bring civilization to its knees.

As for Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane has been quoted, "There is a man whose work makes most the rest of us quail."  So maybe you have something there.
7 years ago
I've never heard of the poet, but his Wiki bio speaks mainly about the man's homosexuality; oh, and, yeah, he wrote poems, too....about homosexuality.  Yes, this is a movie about homosexuals and homosexuality; this is another post on the America blog about homosexuals and homosexuality.

Given this common choice of topic here, I suppose the rumors that the Jesuit orders are populated by a high percentage of homosexual priests are probably true.  And being a heterosexual man who is getting a bit tired of seeing this subject come up again and again, I can only imagine what heterosexual candidates for the priesthood have to endure in Jesuit culture.  It also gives credibility to the theory that the reason there is a shortage of priests is because the heterosexual candidates are discouraged from applying and/or are leaving because of a homosexual culture in the seminaries.

And just to follow up my other comments -on the other two homosexuality posts this week - Wiki mentions that Hart Crane was brought up with constantly fighting parents and that ''as a boy, he had a sexual relationship with an older man.''  Parental discord, absent or abusive fathers, sexual abuse at a young age are classic enviornmental factors that researchers have identifed with homosexuals.  Nobody likes to talk about this fact - homosexual advocates search furiously for evidence against it - because it assigns blame to parents for the homosexuality of their children (and no parent wants to believe that they could be responsible for it) and it goes against the ''I was born that way'' basis for normalizing homosexuality in society. 

Kids can learn to be homosexual; it's why a live and let live approach to homosexuality is empathetic naivete.  This movie is just another ''homosexuality is good'' propaganda piece.

When are they going to make a movie about Robert Frost?
Arnold Jessup
7 years ago

That is too bad, and perhaps your first recourse should be to some of his poems, rather than Wikipedia.

I do not know anything about the role of homosexuality in this blog, in the Jesuits, or in your decision-making process about what sorts of blog posts to police. I do know that it is too bad that beef with an online magazine might keep you or anyone from reading good poetry-even if it did come from a poet with (shocking in a poet) personal problems.

Speaking of poets with personal problems, maybe there should be a Frost movie. He was a man with a lot of darkness, and even though much of his long life was spent in college lecture halls and so probably can't compete in terms of drama with the short fireburst of Hart's life, a movie about him could be challenging and moving.
Arnold Jessup
7 years ago
Mr. Brooks, indeed Hart Crane's homosexuality was a topic mentioned in the review, but it was only one and it was hardly given any special emphasis. It certainly wasn't given anything near the emphasis that you-for whatever reasons-find; that the review gives any intimation that Crane's being gay was "the defining aspect of the poet's life and work" is something that you've invented-for whatever reasons. Indeed, you have not commented on the poetry or the film or the biography. Instead, you have commented on what interested you in a Wikipedia article-and what interested you was the issue of homosexuality. I still stand by my belief that it's just a shame when someone blows past an artist's actual work and interesting discussion about that artist and his work to grasp at talking point in a localized culture war. You don't seem to care about the poet, his poetry, or the movie about the poet and his poetry; what you seem to care about is the fact that a website you seem to despise is talking about the aforementioned things. Well, to each his own.
7 years ago

Since I've never heard of Hart Crane, I was curious at why amongst all of the great poets that I have heard of, that one unknown to me was chosen for a film bio; why of all of the movies released weekly that this movie was deemed worthy of praise; why would I or anyone would be interested in this man's life.  I went to Wiki and reviewed the poet's bio; my question was answered.  Read the Wiki bio, and don't forget the section entitled, "The homosexual text". 
Arnold Jessup
7 years ago
I looked at the article. But now that you mention it, I am sure that this film was produced (as opposed, say, to a movie about Wallace Stevens), because there is a Franco-orchestrated gay conspiracy pulling the strings of Hollywood in order to churn out gay-themed poet movies with the intention of bringing civiization to its knees. Obviously, America Magazine is just a cog in this shadow movement, but by publishing an article on this movie instead of on, say, Scream 4 they are doing their small part.
Arnold Jessup
7 years ago
Good! You've started looking at the man's own words and even see something appealing in them. Since you don't seem all that scared that reading what he has to say will contribute to the "landing strips for gay Martians" cabal, perhaps you could even take a gander at a poem or two. Or maybe even see this movie...unless you're more of the Scream 4 type (or, rather, SCRE4M).

As for me, I'll be watching both...
Jim McCrea
7 years ago
Some people seem to obsess about homosexuality.

As has been said in other circumstances:  my lady doth protest too much (??)
Arnold Jessup
7 years ago
I was excited to see this piece because Hart Crane is one of my favorite poets, and the truth is that I don't have many. I struggle with poetry, perhaps because I can't quite reconcile myself to my own tastes, tastes that Crane fulfills in spades (oracular, associative, fraught with something a bit too obscure to actually grasp).

With Crane, a nice intersection occurs for me, because a favorite painter of mine (Marsden Hartley) did a picture dedicated to his memory (image is linked below, beware because it is large):

Even if Hartley had never even known or painted Crane, I think that I would still associate the two men's work: brooding and ecstatic (to toss out a couple of near-worthless adjectives).

I also will confess that I am endlessly amused by the fact that Hart Crane-the son of the man who invented Lifesavers candies-drowned.

Ha ha.

As for busybee Mr. Franco-I always love to see him.
Arnold Jessup
7 years ago
Meh. I suppose that you'll just have to copy-and-paste the url to see the painting.
7 years ago
As my kids respond when they feel someone has made an unpersuasive statement: "Whatever," Fr. Martin.  I'll look forward to the post on "Atlas Shrugged."  


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