The Broken Tower


The Broken Tower, James Franco’s MFA thesis film at NYU, stars the professional graduate-degree collector as Hart Crane, the American poet who committed suicide at age 32 in 1932. Dividing the writer’s short life into a series of “Voyages” (the title of a sequence of erotic poems by Crane), Franco’s project, based on Paul Marinari’s 2000 study, commits the usual sins of the embalmed literary biopic. The rage of the delicate artist against bourgeois convention is telegraphed via scenes of Crane railing against his chocolatier father and dementedly incanting product names (“Naugahyde!”) at the ad agency where he must toil to support his craft. Grandiose, tin-eared proclamations (“I may be the last Romantic alive”) follow bouts of prodigious drinking—one of Crane’s more self-destructive traits, along with falling for sailors who often didn’t reciprocate his feelings (or did with fists). Clearly in love with his own verse-reading voice after declaiming as Allen Ginsberg in Howl, Franco recites all of Crane’s “For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen” in cadences and rhythms suitable for spoken-word open-mic night. Like those frequently unbearable events, The Broken Tower is sincere, amateurish, and misguided.