Toeing the line between Vanity and School Project, James Franco’s mosaic portrait of Hart Crane and his dense poetry is told in a series of stop-and-go/splintered vignettes parsed out in chronological burps. Shot largely in b&w close-up (to hide non-period detail?), it fails to contextualize Hart’s writing in any helpful way, presumably the point of the project, since neither Franco’s rote oral readings nor printed excerpts on screen get his meanings (or even his sound) across. A couple of early scenes where kid brother Dave Franco plays the young Hart come off slightly better, his face takes better to b&w and we aren’t asked to make any literary connection. And there’s relief during a brief stop in Paris since the camera can pull back in confidence that period detail won’t be shattered. A walk in Notre Dame Cathedral in low-resolution color promises . . . something . . . but what? It’s nearly as pointless as a stop at an NYC bijou to watch Chaplin’s THE KID/’21 with some laugh-averse customers. Elsewhere, Hart/Franco goes blotto with abandon and takes on a couple of gay couplings with gusto*, but otherwise shoots so much of the rest of the film on the back of his head you start to feel like his barber. Nice hair, James . . . hmm, what a short neck.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *The appropriate sex act for Franco in this film would be masturbation . . . intellectual masturbation.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Films about writers are very hard to pull off. And poets? . . . nearly impossible. But it can be done, try STEVIE/’78 with the great Glenda Jackson as Stevie Smith, from the Hugh Whitemore play.