‘Darlings’ delves into Ginsberg’s early years, birth of the Beatsby michael fox, j. correspondent
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As depicted in filmmaker John Krokidas’ mesmerizing and propulsive feature debut, “Kill Your Darlings,” the catalyst for Ginsberg’s coming of age was a worldly student named Lucien Carr, who became Ginsberg’s first (albeit unrequited) love and introduced the wide-eyed freshman to a circle that included William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac.
“We didn’t want contemporary audiences to forget the way things were back then,” Krokidas said in a recent interview at a Nob Hill hotel. “And that includes the fact that a Jewish student would have his religion and cultural heritage brought up in conversation.”
During World War II, Krokidas notes, there was a lot of anti-Semitism in the U.S. and at universities such as Columbia, where a quota on Jewish students existed.
“ ‘Kill Your Darlings’ is a story about an artist finding his voice — which as Allen Ginsberg includes not only his sexuality but his Judaism,” Krokidas says. “I felt it important to make sure that we weren’t whitewashing or ignoring that [anti-Semitism] was definitely one of the struggles that he came up against as a young Jewish man in 1944.”
“Kill Your Darlings” opens Nov. 1 in the Bay Area.
Krokidas, 40, was raised in a suburb of New Haven, Conn., where “the Jews outnumbered the non-Jews, and you knew how popular you were by how many bar and bat mitzvahs you were invited to, so I never knew growing up that Jews were considered a minority,” he says.
Like Ginsberg, Krokidas grew up with an emotionally ill parent, and one deduces — in conversation and from the film — that this shared experience was one of his main motivations for devoting 10 years to writing, developing and making “Kill Your Darlings.”
As an adolescent, Ginsberg “was an emotional caretaker,” Krokidas explains. “He was the family member who took care of his mother [played by Jennifer Jason Leigh]. Those of us with emotionally ill parents who took care of them know that that becomes somewhat a theme for life. Look who he falls in love with when he gets to school: An extremely charismatic and seductive yet most likely emotionally ill young man, who he starts taking care of.”
“Kill Your Darlings” excavates a forgotten footnote to the poet’s biography that climaxes with obsession, betrayal and murder. While the first year away at college is a period of exploration and growth for most people, in Ginsberg’s case it was dramatic, traumatic and life altering.
Krokidas, who wrote the screenplay with his college roommate and best friend, Austin Bunn, confides that Jesse Eisenberg originally signed on as Ginsberg. But after “The Social Network” (playing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg), the actor decided not to play another Jewish Ivy League college student.
Radcliffe, whose mother is Jewish, eventually embraced the role with singular dedication, Krokidas says. The filmmaker has Radcliffe’s reading of “Howl” on his iPhone, which would make a one-of-a-kind DVD extra.
“The danger that I worried about is, I’ve seen when people tackle famous Jewish characters,” Krokidas says. “They overdo the accents, and it becomes a parody of the character. So Dan and I worked really hard on listening to early Allen Ginsberg recordings. We didn’t want to mimic who he’d later become.”
The filmmaker was determined to avoid the clichés of dusty biopics and to make a visceral film that would connect with younger audiences, whether they’d heard of the Beats or not. Radcliffe’s presence, as much as Ginsberg’s reputation, will presumably attract moviegoers receptive to the film’s overarching theme.
Says Krokidas: “I was fascinated with the idea of being young and wanting to say something authentic, do something different, make a difference in this world — and not just be the person their parents wanted them to be, or what school is teaching them to be.”
“Kill Your Darlings” opens Nov. 1 in Bay Area theaters. (Rated R for sexual content, language, drug use and brief violence. 104 minutes)
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