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‘Broken Tower’ Debut at BC

Actor-director James Franco adapts book by University Professor of English Paul Mariani

03/31/11
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By Office of News & Public Affairs |

Published: Mar. 31, 2011

Acclaimed actor James Franco will be at Boston College on April 15 to premiere his new film “The Broken Tower,” inspired by and based on a biography of American poet Hart Crane written by poet and University Professor of English Paul Mariani.

The screening event — which will be held for BC undergraduates selected via lottery — will take place at 5 p.m. in the Robsham Theater Arts Center. Mariani will join Franco in a Q&A session following the screening to discuss the film, Crane’s life and poetic reputation — Mariani has described Crane as “brilliant, complex and obscure.”Details on the lottery for the event will be e-mailed to undergraduates shortly.

Published in 1999, the year of Crane’s 100th birthday, Mariani’s book The Broken Tower: The Life of Hart Crane, received numerous awards and accolades, and was called “a compelling chronicle of artistic triumph and private ruin,” by Washington Post “Book World.”Mariani, who provided Franco with extensive background and at his request toured locations and was on the movie set, also has a small speaking part in the film as photographer and artist Alfred Stieglitz.

Set in the 1920s and shot in and around Crane’s beloved New York City, the film also features actor Michael Shannon.

Making his directorial debut with “The Broken Tower,” Franco — who has appeared in numerous high-profile films and earned international fame, as well as an Oscar nomination for his role in “127 Hours” — also wrote the screenplay for the biopic and plays Crane. Crane, best known for his works The Bridge and The Broken Tower, committed suicide in 1932 at age 32 when he jumped to his death from a ship. Reportedly considered a biographical work inspired by his only heterosexual affair, The Broken Tower was published posthumously.

The challenge of adapting the book, and depicting Crane’s life, on screen, Mariani notes, is encapsulating “so much energy and human complexity.” 

According to Mariani, Franco has succeeded. After viewing cuts of the film earlier this month, he says, “James had already chiseled the film into something like its powerful final version. It’s in black and white and consists of what James calls 12 voyages, or segments, of Hart Crane’s life — interlocked thematically and visually — with James reading long stretches of Crane’s poems.”

Mariani says the reaction of his students to his celebrity collaboration has been interesting. 

“It has been everything from disbelief to mild interest to bedazzlement. It’s been fun watching those reactions not only from undergraduates to graduates, but even my colleagues.”