Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. Three iconic figures in literature, the three main exponents of the literary beat movement. Three of the most influential writers of all time. It's hard to believe that there was a time when they were just beginners looking for an artistic identity. The meeting between these important figures, which took place before they were anybody and were still struggling to find their artistic identity, is the subject of the first feature by John Krokidas. Quite a tricky subject for a feature debut, yet it also makes perfect sense. "There are a couple of elements that attracted me to the story. I'm gay, I had an ill parent and, more importantly, I could identify with the story about beginning as I began to make my journey to making my first film."
There are also other links to the film that the filmmaker could directly identify with, elements that particularly lie in Allen Ginsberg, the main voice of the film. "I heard about Ginsberg when I was very young and still hadn't come to terms with my homosexuality. I was probably fifteen. His poetry is very sexually explicit and for a guy like me who was so shy and closeted about his sexuality, seeing him so brave was inspiring."
The starting point of the film and, as he says, the thing that attracted Krokidas the most, was the murder story which brought the three legendary writers to be together, a story which was introduced to him by his former college roommate, best friend and co-script writer of the film, Austin Bunn. The murder was committed by Lucien Carr, the man who helped the three writers meet and inspired them to begin a literary movement that would change the world. Ginsberg is also instantly attracted by Carr, and it is through him that he discovers his sexuality. "I had never heard the story before and Austin told me about this amazing play he was going to do to me," said Krokidas. "But as he was talking about this play, I started getting images in my head and because I am a manipulative director I convinced him that he was going to do this as a movie and we were going to write it together and I was going to direct it as a movie."
"So, for me the starting point was murder, but we were trying to ask ourselves what the story we were trying to tell was. First, we tried to tell it from Lucien Carr's perspective, seeing what he could do, but it wasn't going anywhere. It was like trying to get in the mind of a killer, which didn't work because Austin is not a killer and I am definitely not a killer. When we looked at the other characters in the movie, it looked like Allen had the most exciting journey during this time span. He starts off being the emotional caretaker to his mentally ill mother, he is a dutiful son and he knows he wants to do something important with his life, but doesn't know what."
Writing is also something that Krokidas is familiar with. "When I went to film school, I was told that the best way to learn about filmmaking was script coverage. Script coverage is when you read scripts that are submitted to studio executives and write up a two page report form them to read. I applied and got a Miramax doing that. I was working for free but one of the things I learnt is that reading other people's bad art is a way of making you feel really good about your own and to get confidence. It also introduced me to the people in the industry I was working for, who one day got together and asked me whether I wanted to write one of my own."
"I didn't want to make the typical film about writing that is just a guy smoking and sitting in front of a typewriter. I asked myself what I do when I write. I asked myself what the process of writing is. You get inside your head. You try to find emotions and memories and things that are poignant for you. Yes, there is plenty of smoking. Yes, there is plenty of masturbation too. I wanted to be very honest."
Krokidas and Bunn initially decided to write the screenplay for Kill Your Darlings as friends and was something they did as a hobby more than a job. At first they were almost too scared to show it to anybody. Eventually, Krokidas showed it to his manager who loved it and before they knew it Christine Vachon, the legendary New York producer, was telling him that she needed to produce the movie. That is when it all started coming together.
Despite the fact that the film is set in the 1940s, it has a very contemporary feel. To achieve this, Krokidas makes use of an electrifying style, a careful eye for trendy fashionable costumes and use of modern music from contemporary bands such as Yancy and Sigur Rós to accentuate certain scenes. However, perhaps the element most appealing to a modern audience is the cast, which includes Michael C. Hall of Dexter fame and the world's most famous sorcerer's apprentice Daniel Radcliffe. Casting Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg was particularly intriguing considering he had been playing the same character for ten years. "He was so good. One of the great things for me was having this secret of knowing what a great actor he was before anybody could see him on screen."
Krokidas revealed that there was another reason which led him to work hard in trying to get the film made. "This movie took a long time to make. We started talking about it ten years ago and the movie almost came together and fell apart three times. One of the most important things that kept me going was that one of the elements of the film which shows that in 1944 you could get away with murder by portraying your victim as a homosexual. It's a bad part in American history but at the same time, look what's happening in Russia now. These skin heads walking around in the name of freedom and beating the shit out of homosexuals or the people they think are gay and the people are just watching it happen."
Even stylistically, the film is reminiscent of the literary beats, with the free camera movements and sharp cuts resembling imperfections similar to the ones in Jack Karouac's prose and occasional lack of punctuation. Kill Your Darlings introduces to the world a new talent John Krodikas, as an ambitious and talented filmmaker who, despite the short time available and the restricted budget, was able to make a exciting and stylish period drama with fascinating modern noir elements.
[Mattia Micucci, 28 Times Cinema]