Howard Brookner only completed three
films, but he was no one-hit-wonder. Nor did he suffer a sophomore slump. Aaron
Brookner pays tribute to the director of the classic cinematic profile Burroughs: The Movie with his own
documentary, Uncle Howard (trailer here), which
screens during the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.
Howard Brookner was always a natural
playing the role of favorite uncle. Even though he was not always around, he
developed a special relationship with his future filmmaking nephew. Clearly,
Aaron Brookner will use his film to celebrate “Uncle Howard,” but it also
becomes part of a bigger effort to preserve Howard Brookner’s work. Although
previously considered lost, Brookner discovers his uncle’s outtakes from Burroughs, as well as the rest of his
archives were stashed away in “The Bunker,” Burroughs’ in/famous subterranean Bowery
When Brookner finally gains access, along
with his uncle’s old technical collaborator Jim Jarmusch, they discover (and
duly incorporate into the film) sequences that reflect the extent to which the
Burroughs circle embraced the elder Brookner as one of their own, all of which
is confirmed by the emotional remembrances of James Grauerholz, Burroughs’
editor, caretaker, and literary executor.
Obviously, there is an awful lot of
Burroughs in Brookner’s film, because that is what ninety-nine percent of the
audience for Uncle Howard will be primarily
interested in. Still, Aaron Brookner spends a good deal of time on his uncle’s
under-screened second film Robert Wilson
and the Civil Wars, nor does he ignore Brookner’s Hollywood debut, Bloodhounds of Broadway. Wilson, the
theater director, also offers some affectionate memories of Brookner, but
apparently Randy Quaid was not available to wax nostalgic over Bloodhounds.
Uncle Howard is an
unflaggingly nice film. Frankly, it is probably more sentimental than its
subject and Burroughs might otherwise prefer. However, it really offers us a full
sense of the postmodern-Beatnik world they inhabited. If it does not open
before October, it is a cinch to get programmed at this year’s New York Film
Festival, which screened Burroughs: the
Movie when it was new and again as a restored retro selection in 2014.
Having festivals favorites Jarmusch and Sara Driver on-board as executive
producer and co-producer, respectively, looks like a further guarantee—and why
not? The film is highly watchable, even if you are not a Burroughs fanatic.
Uncle Howard is an inescapably personal
film, but Aaron Brookner maintains a healthy balance of family business and
specialized cultural history. Consequently, it just plays considerably better
than you would expect. Recommended for fans of Burroughs and the vintage 1980s
downtown scene, Uncle Howard screens
again today (1/29) and tomorrow (1/30) in Park City, as part of this year’s
Sundance Film Festival.
Labels: Documentary, Howard Brookner, Sundance '16, William S. Burroughs