The Howard Brookner renaissance that began in 2015 with Brad Gooch’s stunning memoir “Smash Cut”, about his relationship with the late filmmaker, continues with Howard’s nephew Aaron Brookner’s lovingly rendered doc “Uncle Howard” (Pinball London). As the doc begins we see Aaron in the process of searching for archival footage from Howard’s first film, “Burroughs: The Movie,” the acclaimed 1983 documentary about gay writer William S. Burroughs.
The rumored footage is stored in “the bunker,” the storied Bowery apartment in which Burroughs lived, later inhabited by gay performance poet John Giorno. Giorno, who has become the keeper of the footage, initially makes things difficult for Aaron, but once Aaron gains access, a whole world is revealed to him.
With “Uncle Howard,” Aaron Brookner, who was seven at the time of his uncle’s passing, has done a marvelous job of creating a many-layered tribute to the man he describes as his “hero.” There are fascinating biographical details about Howard (for instance, in spite of his parents’ wishes for him to attend law school, Howard attended film school at NYU) and the interviews with Howard’s mother Elaine are alternately amusing and heartbreaking.
Additionally, the movie within the movie, about the lost Burroughs footage, leads to Aaron interviewing Burroughs’ literary executor and heir James Grauerholz, gay writer Darryl Pinckney, film producer Lindsey Law, as well as filmmakers Jim Jarmusch (sound recordist for “Burroughs”) and Tom DiCillo and theater director Robert Wilson, among others. The sight of the lost Burroughs film footage alone is sure to appeal to a certain segment of the audience.
However, the emotional heart of the film is when Aaron interviews Howard’s ex, model-turned-writer Brad Gooch. The scenes with Gooch pack a wallop, detailing the end of Howard’s life and the production of Howard’s final movie, “Bloodhounds of Broadway” to his agent, Luis, another casualty of the plague. It’s safe to say you will probably never hear the Pretenders’ “Hymn to Her” the same way again.
Ultimately, Brookner’s tribute to his uncle reminds us that Howard’s passing, and that of Mapplethorpe and countless other creative people lost to AIDS, had an immeasurable impact on the culture of New York and the world. It’s a reminder to never forget these people and the legacy they left behind. Rating: B+
[Now available on Netflix, Vimeo, iTunes and other digital platforms.]