Sundance director highlights dark chapter of Beat Generation’s history
Film director John Krokidas had a good day on Wednesday, a very good day.
He began the morning on stage at the Egyptian Theatre to introduce his film, "Kill Your Darlings," which had earned one of the coveted spots in the Sundance Film Festival U.S. Dramatic Competition. It was a moment that independent filmmakers all over the world fantasize about. And, as if that wasn’t cool enough, he announced it had just been sold to Sony Pictures.
Clearly enjoying the spotlight, Krokidas, whose short film "Slow-Mo" screened at Sundance in 2002, said, "All I have wanted to do since then was to come back."
For most of the interim, he explained, he had been working on the script for "Kill Your Darlings."
"There are over 422 drafts saved on my hard drive," he said, adding, that his screenwriting partner and former college roommate Austin Bunn deserved much of the credit for the final version.
"To be able to come up and to share this with somebody you’ve been best friends with for so long, it’s really poignant He is a much better writer than I will ever be," he said.
The film is based on a little-known true tale about literary icons Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, and a dark secret they shared about the murder of another writer, David Kammerer, and his assailant, Lucien Carr.
"This story is just a footnote in a lot of their biographies," Bunn said. "In college I had read about the death of David Kammerer and I figured there had to be other sides to the story. So with that little seedling we just started digging."
In doing so, they discovered a complicated network of relationships among a group of young men who were intent on challenging the literary and social conventions of their day.
The drama unfolds at Columbia University in 1944, an era faithfully and artfully recreated by production designer Stephen Carter and director of photography Reed Morano. Central to the plot is a nerdy 17-year-old Allen Ginsberg, played by Daniel Radcliffe, who leaves home to attend Columbia University. There he meets the charismatic, but fatally-flawed Lucien Carr.
According to Krokidas, Carr’s daring character is an archetype that many may remember from their own college days.
"Austin and I both had this figure in our lives; it was pretty personal. When you leave home for the first time and find someone at college, or just away from your parents, who is either more attractive, more cool than you, or more worldly, and they take you under their wing and start showing you that there is so much more possible in your life than you thought there was going to be."
That person can be a positive role model, or someone who might ruin your life. For Ginsberg, Carr, played with riveting intensity by Dane DeHaan, is both inspirational and dangerous.
Carr lures Ginsberg into a plan to topple the Ivy League’s literary confines that includes raiding Columbia’s rare book library. They are joined in the caper by a dissipated William Burroughs, played by Ben Foster, and a virile Jack Kerouac, portrayed by Jack Huston.
As Krokidas and Bunn eloquently reveal, all four are plagued by dysfunctional families and the neuroses that seem to afflict so many extraordinarily creative artists. Ginsberg is struggling to find his voice as an author, Carr is trying to break free from the predatory Kammerer, Kerouac is restless for a new adventure, and Burroughs, well, mostly he just has to get sober enough to write.
Even Beat Generation aficionados will find new threads to follow in the storyline. Krokidas and Bunn, Yale men themselves, have done their homework tracking down the volatile relationships between Carr and Kammerer, and between Ginsberg, Carr and Kerouac.
Danielle Radcliffe fans, too, are likely to have a lot to think about. According to Krokidas, Radcliffe, known to most as the idealistic young wizard in the Harry Potter series, offers a complex portrait of a young man on the brink of becoming an intellectual force in our culture.
"Kill Your Darlings" is one of 16 feature-length films in the Sundance Film Festival U.S. Dramatic Competition. The winner will be announced tonight, Saturday, Jan. 26, at an awards ceremony at the Basin Fieldhouse.
Author Edward Massey will present a reading and book signing of his new historic novel “Fugitive Sheriff” at the Kamas Valley Branch on Friday.