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“He Was a Chameleon”: Director Aaron Brookner | Uncle Howard

Uncle Howard

In every film, there is the story that you knew you were telling, the story the audience perceives. But there is always some other story, a secret story. It might be the result of your hidden motivations for making the film, or, instead, the result of themes that only became clear to you after you made the movie. It might be something very personal, or it might be a story you didn’t even know you were telling. What is your film’s secret story?

I was aware that my uncle Howard [Brooker, director of Burroughs the Movie, 1983] had many secrets and different sides to him going into production, but I had no idea just how many. We did our research before anything was shot, which involved connecting with many of Howard’s friends and colleagues. This was pretty illuminating. No one knew the same Howard. He was gay, had girlfriends, went to synagogue and was very involved with his family, messed around with dope, frequented some of the seediest clubs imaginable, had extremely close relationships with his Jewish grandparents, was at home in the world of William Burroughs as he was that of Robert Wilson, jet-setting around the world, as he was in Hollywood navigating the studio system. He lived in the Chelsea Hotel and Gracie Square, was an usher at the Met Opera, wrote porno books and worked for the Bowery’s Bari family. This was just the tip of the iceberg. He had even more lives in London, Paris, and elsewhere in Europe and Japan. What was doubly interesting was that as different as each Howard was, he was also always the same guy. He was a chameleon but he was complex, not cunning. He was always genuine and all these different sides played important parts in telling his story and getting it right. He lived his life completely open to the world and what it had to offer.

Along the way, just when we would think we had him all figured out, new information would come to light either by way of a friend who knew yet another version of Howard, or by way of discovering another film reel or video tape (or 30). It was a real challenge to get as many sides to Howard as we did into a 90 minute film. I’m quite proud of this achievement. Still, there were secrets that didn’t find their way into our narrative, such as the film Howard was developing with David Bowie.

[PREMIERE SCREENING: Tuesday, January 26 at 3:00pm — Temple Theatre]

Sundance Responses 2016

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