‘Uncle Howard’ Captures the Documentarian Who Captured the Beat


Filmmaker Howard Brookner died in 1989, at age 34, leaving behind two brilliant documentaries and a world of people who loved him dearly. These include his nephew, Aaron Brookner, whose documentary about his uncle’s life is a bit disjointed but also vibrant and loving, much like its subject. Brookner is best known for Burroughs: The Movie (1983), which found the filmmaker trailing writer William Burroughs (“Naked Lunch”) for five years.

As Uncle Howard begins, Aaron discovers a treasure trove of raw footage that shows Howard interacting with (and charming) Burroughs and his iconic friends, among them, Allen Ginsberg and Andy Warhol. Great stuff, but for a good while, it feels as if we’re watching the Burroughs doc, not a film about its maker. Howard Brookner the man comes more sharply into focus when Aaron reaches out to his uncle’s former lover, poet-biographer Brad Gooch. When they first met, in NYC, circa 1978, each man noted the moment in his daily diary, and the years that follow are movingly recounted here by Gooch and their many friends.

This is a film rich with old home movies, including achingly sweet footage of a family party for a frail (but beaming) Howard, who was dying of AIDS. Aaron gives his uncle the last word, utilizing found footage that’s so perfect an exit it’s as if Howard planned for it to be used in exactly this way — and maybe he did.

Uncle Howard
Directed by Aaron Brookner
Pinball London
Opens November 18, IFC Center