By JAY WEISSBERG
Jun. 26, 2009
An Arkwright Ventures production. Produced by Gustave Reininger,
Damien Leveck. Executive producers, Reininger, Donna Stillo, Jane
Albrecht, Fred Milstein, John Ptak. Co-producers, Haven Reininger,
Amanda Gill. Directed, written by Gustave Reininger.
With: Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, Ethan Hawke, Gustave Reininger.
The least known of the Beats comes off as the most appealing in
Gustave Reininger's enthralling docu "Corso -- the Last Beat." The
helmer, best known for his collaborations with Michael Mann (most
notably on "Crime Story"), befriended Gregory Corso in his later
years, documenting that final period and helping to expel ghosts from
the poet's haunted past. Once it's gotten the clumsy period-setting
out of the way, the pic comes into its own, tugging at the emotions
in genuinely cathartic ways. "Corso" will easily see success on
bicoastal art screens and beyond.
In a sign of how successfully Reininger gives life not just to the
man but to his poetry, the public jury at Taormina awarded the docu
their best film prize. Opening scenes introduce Corso exhorting the
Muses at the ancient temple in Delphi, looking very different from
the handsome figure seen in early photos. With his thick New York
accent and unkempt appearance, he looks and sounds more like a common
schnorrer than the man Allen Ginsberg called "a poet's poet."
Reininger shifts back in time in an attempt to capture the era
leading up to the Beats' takeover of popular culture, though piling
on photos does little to illuminate the subject. Fortunately this
hyperbole-prone section segues into scenes of Corso and Ginsberg
pointing out old haunts in New York's Greenwich Village. With
Ginsberg's death in 1997 -- seen in deliberately out-of-focus images
-- Corso became the last of the Beats.
Docu's long gestation is evident both in this original footage and in
Reininger's subsequent journey with Corso to Europe, where the poet
was rejuvenated by sites in France, Italy and Greece he first visited
in the 1950s.
Born in New York in 1930, he led a hardscrabble childhood: Convinced
by an abusive father that his mother abandoned him, Corso grew up on
the streets, thrown into "the Tombs" at age 13 for nabbing a toaster.
At 17, he was sentenced to three years in the maximum-security
Clinton Correctional Facility for stealing a suit. The docu enters a
new realm with scenes of Corso returning to Clinton and speaking with
the inmates about his discovery of classical texts in prison. There's
nothing of the schoolmaster in his manner; he speaks inspirationally,
without condescension and with enormous understanding and gratitude.
From here, Reininger's story gets better and better, as he fills in
Corso's childhood and investigates the real tale of his mother's
supposed abandonment. Even auds aware of the story are bound to be
moved by how it develops, and the film captures it with respect and warmth.
Much is left out -- there's no sense of how Corso supported himself,
and the film does viewers a disservice by avoiding any mention of his
drug use and lifelong methadone addiction.
Ethan Hawke delivers onscreen narration in a relaxed style akin to
that of a teacher educating friends. The thesp is an appropriate
choice: His propensity for grunge could never have existed without
the Beats and, as seen toward the end, he was a visitor at Corso's
deathbed. Sound quality is occasionally fuzzy around the edges, but
otherwise, the docu plays fine on the bigscreen.
Camera (color/B&W, DV), Harry Dawson, Richard Rutkowski, Jesse M.
Feldman; editor, Damien Leveck; music, Steven J. Edwards; sound, Adam
Hawk; associate producer, Peter Kirby. Reviewed at Taormina Film
Festival (Beyond the Mediterranean), June 14, 2009. Running time: 87 MIN.