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A heartbreaking time capsule, Uncle Howard

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unclehowardUncle Howard is a beautiful ghost story, directed by Aaron Brookner about his uncle, a rising filmmaker from New York. The movie is a film about films, and a bit about William Burroughs, and a lot about how AIDs ripped through the cultural heart of the late 70s and 80s, but mostly, it is a mesmerizing story about a charismatic filmmaker, Howard Brookner.

Interestingly, the first third of the movie hovers around William Burroughs, because he was the subject for Uncle Howard (Brookner) first documentary film, a five year endeavor that started as a student project at NYU, along with Jim Jarmusch. There is plenty of candid archival footage that places the viewer as a candid guest in Burroughs New York “bunker.” Andy Warhol, Frank Zappa and Allen Ginsberg orbit in Burroughs’ world, and the film subtly hints at this passing-of-the-torch to a new generation of artists, like Jarmusch, Tom Dicillo and Spike Lee, up-and-coming artists from New York who are all friendsters of Uncle Howard.

Sadly—and hanging like a threatening thundercloud on the horizon—is AIDs, which ultimately decimated much a good portion of this late 70s/early 80s New York and LA artists, taking notables like Robert Mapplethorpe and Keith Haring; lesser known, Brookner was hovering at the periphery of renown when he was diagnosed, having produced two notable documentaries and forewent treatment to complete his first feature film, starring Madonna and Matt Dillon.

“If they had lived,” one friend comments during an interview in the film, “we’d have a very different culture.”

Director Aaron Brookner tells a story so much larger than his uncle’s short, but busy, life; yet, all the while, never losing touch of the precise and delicate emotions that make a life, any life, so important—and that attention to details make this documentary a moving and intimate ghost story. 

 

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