Friday, April 25, 2014


The beat generation deserved a better and more empathetic scrutiny


A film that was expected by many people, because of an actor who were getting out of a teenage part that had lasted six or seven years, like Daniel Radcliffe, or an actor surviving a long series, and his own cancer, like Michael C. Hall. But as for me the main reason was the subject of that film, the birth of the beat generation, the meeting of the main protagonists of the beat generation to be and become. We are in 1943 and we meet young students at Columbia University in New York. They are all going to be the writers and poets of that post war lost generation that will beat their guilt out of their minds and beat us down into our own guilt.

We all know Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Lucien Carr. It is true the fifth character of this pentacle, David Kammerer, is not really known for what he has achieved in his own life, what he has left behind under his own name. He just was the English teacher who fell in love with his pupil Lucien Carr who fell in love too but as a teenager who had to grow out of this pubescent love and did not know how to do it, especially since David Kammerer did not know he had to yield and step away. Instead of that he followed the young man and haunted him.

Our four future poets and writers  were all in breaking rules and experimenting all kinds of strange things, drugs, morphine, alcohol of course, marihuana, but also the excitement and thrill they could get out of violating some good old standards in their society, like sexual taboos and rejected sexual orientations. But they all had to break themselves, to collide into one another and bruise, hurt and even dismantle one another and themselves. It looks as if their future talent had to be born in the blood of a sacrificed innocent man whose sole crime was to love one of them excessively, obsessively, compulsively. That’s the most dramatic and unexplainable fact in their lives and careers. They all needed that death to become. I just hope they were haunted by their guilt till the end of their own lives.

Strangely enough their society was lenient, even for the actual murderer, and that can be explained easily by the fact that David Kammerer was gay and their society at the time was definitely and irredeemably antigay. Lucien Carr could have pleaded non guilty because David Kammerer being a homosexual, he had the right to defend his honor and kill him. But Allan Ginsberg, definitely, and Jack Kerouac more or less, not to speak of William Burroughs who was retrieved and taken away by his own father, had to tell the truth in a way or another, and to let everyone, and Lucien Carr first of all, know the truth: Lucien Carr was in love with David Kammerer, which made him a homosexual too. He thus had to accept the verdict of murder in the first degree. And yet he only got eighteen months of probationary detention. Quite cheap for the life of a man, even a homosexual!

But what remains the real truth for us is that these four poets and writers found their inspiration and force in those mixed orientations and in that crime, described in all its ugliness: discover the details in the film itself. And we are shown the horror twice, plus told about it in full detail one third time, along with the first visual demonstration. No way for us not to know the obsessive and compulsive obligation, necessity, impulse, desire and even fascination to commit that murder, to kill that man, slowly and systematically, as some kind of a last final commitment to each other till death them part and death, inflicted by the young man to the older man, does part them.

We will say it is very romantic to find one’s artistic inspiration in one’s suffering, but here that romanticism is sadistic since they find their inspiration in the suffering they inflict onto one another, including onto an outsider who tries to stick to their small circle of . . . what can we call them? Friends? I doubt it.

The film is packed with fast action, rich piles of artifacts and props, and the actors are all quite seasoned in their guilt and non-repentance, the non-repentance of some crocodiles shedding tears on the suffering of others when they only shed tears on their own misery which is no misery at all since anyway they will be able to use their families or their connections to get through. The film does not in any way acclaim, applaud and approve of this beat generation, but it rather shows how they were lost because they were from more or less well off families: they hated it but they used it skillfully in order to avoid punishment or to get a second chance. The only one who really did it with his own hands is Jack Kerouac, but he was like the fifth wheel of a wagon, the one who took part but did not really belong.

But the film also contains some easy symbolism like showing William Burroughs shooting himself with morphine, Allen Ginsberg being sexually penetrated by some unknown outsider he had accidently picked in the street, and Lucien Carr repeatedly stabbing David Kammerer. It is easy and it is also farfetched as if drug addiction, gay sex and killing a gay partner were the same thing, as if gay orientation led necessarily to anal sex shown on the screen, a syringe in your arm and a knife in the chest of your lover, the three at the same time and in close and dense succession. It even could sound like exposure more than fair presentation. Is the film ambiguous about this beat generation?


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