Kill Your Darlings Director John Krokidas, On The Nine-Year Odyssey To Make His Feature Debut
"When someone tells you not to be that ambitious, at least me, my first gut reaction is 'I can prove them wrong.' "
That's John Krokidas talking, the writer and director of Kill Your Darlings, but it just as easily could have come from Allen Ginsberg, the central figure of Krokidas's feature directing debut, played as a curious but ambitious college student by Daniel Radcliffe. Krokidas wrote the script with his college roommate Austin Bunn and spent nine grueling years trying to get the film made, frequently reminded that a period piece from a first-time director was no easy sell. After bringing his NYU thesis short film Slo-Mo to the Sundance Film Festival in 2002, "I vowed to come back two years later with my first feature," Krokidas says. That film was Kill Your Darlings. It premiered at Sundance 11 years later.
I met John Krokidas for coffee on the Upper West Side of Manhattan just a week after this year's Sundance Film Festival, where he was staying at a friend's house and still recovering from the whirlwind of the festival. The film earned plenty of attention as "the Daniel Radcliffe gay sex movie," featuring one brief scene of Allen Ginsberg's first gay sex experience, but had plenty of rave reviews in its own right, capturing the energy bordering on insanity of the early Beat movement, when Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs first met and experimented with the drugs and music and literature that would lead them to start a revolution. The actual crux of the story, though, is Lucien Carr, a student at Columbia with Ginsberg who introduced him to Burroughs and Kerouac and who was an writer in his own right until he murdered a man named David Kammerer, and it changed his life.
Kammerer's murder, depicted in the press as an "honor slaying," was a largely secret part of the Beat origin story. Carr, Burroughs, Kerouac and Ginsberg all conspired to put the event behind them. "In the biographies there's always only one paragraph written about the murder," Krokidas explains. "It's almost like the Manchurian Candidate, because all of these paragraphs are written exactly identical to each other." Carr was convicted of manslaughter and served a brief 2-year sentence in jail, and only after his death in 2005 were two key texts about the murder made available to the public-- the short story "And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks," by Kerouac and Burroughs, and Ginsberg's own college journal. "They all waited until after Lucien passed away," Krokidas says, pointing out that Carr started going by "Lou" after the murder, married a woman and lived a fairly mundane life as an editor for the United Press International. "Once Lucien got out of jail, he made it a strict point that he wanted to live a normal life, the exact life that he was rebelling against a year and a half before."
The historical record is fuzzy on the precise nature of Carr's relationships with both Kammerer and Ginsberg. Kammerer essentially stalked Carr from St. Louis to New York, and was interested in Carr since he was a teenager, but Krokidas says he learned in his research that "there was much more to this relationship than was suggested in the biographies," and that Carr was often as attached to Kammerer as the older man was to him. "All it took was a couple of minutes of research to find out that Lucien got everyone in line-- Burroughs, Kerouac and Ginsberg-- to help him try to portray his relationship with David, which they all knew was a friendship and possibly a deeper relationship, as a relationship where David was a sexual predator." And though Ginsberg is one of history's most famous and outspoken gay writers, and called Carr his first love, it took Krokidas's research to uncover "a weird co-dependent relationship" that the two had for the rest of their lives. Regardless of the truth, Krokidas says, "it's Allen's need to see their relationship, and believing they were once in love, to give him the confidence to write his first story."
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