Thursday, 11 January 2018

Uncle Howard
Dir: Aaron Brookner
Howard Brookner, director of the brilliant Burroughs: The Movie, Robert Wilson and the Civil Wars and Bloodhounds of Broadway (which is much better than people remember) died of the AIDS virus in 1989 at the age of thirty-four, just as his career was really taking off. Nearly thirty years later, Howard’s nephew Aaron sets about accessing his uncle’s vast video and audio archives to find out more about his childhood idol. Aaron’s uncle Howard was clearly a huge influence on his life and his career. Aaron worked on Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes, after Jarmusch had worked as a sound technician on his uncle’s critically acclaimed – and long thought lost film Burroughs: The Movie. The pair of them visit the infamous ‘Bunker’, the creative pad where Burroughs lived and most of the Burroughs film was shot, and where writers, poets and artists would regularly descend, to work, drink and take drugs back in the day. Access to the archive had long alluded Aaron due to its current occupant being less than welcoming, even though he doesn’t own it or its contents. When Aaron does finally get access he is blown away by just quite how much of his uncle’s work is there and untouched. This is basically the life and career of Howard Brookner through Aaron’s journey in getting a fresh copy of Burroughs: The Movie released. Or at least that’s how it started. As Aaron goes through the vast reels of film, another story emerges and only around 50% of the film is dedicated to the Burroughs years. Aaron, who is of a similar age to his uncle when he died, clearly gets closer to him through the process. The first part of the film is heavily narrated but towards the end of the film Aaron lets the archive footage speak for itself. Certain footage clearly means something to him personally but doesn’t necessarily fit with the rest of the film, indeed, the latter part of the film becomes indulgent but I think that in this case it works. It’s a wonderful tribute to a talented man who was sure to go on to much success if it weren’t for his premature death. The film becomes a sad reminder of just how many young men died during the AIDs epidemic towards the end and the interviews with those who lost many friends and loved ones is heartbreaking. It is fascinating how a lot of the attitudes have and haven’t changed and the interesting aspects of the film deal with the shattered truth of nostalgia, when Aaron realises that his Grandparent whom he adores, were not as supportive of his uncles sexuality as he had always thought. The film will appeal to William S Burroughs fans and those interested in the creative movement in New York in the late 70s and early 80s. It’s a wonderful nostalgia piece and also a great look at someone many have overlooked. Extremely touching and the best ‘re-visiting’ style documentary I’ve seen in quite a while with some great archive footage and behind the scenes clips of artists and filmmakers of the era.

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