This very personal doc comes from the perspective of a nephew remembering and researching his long-gone uncle. Aaron Brookner’s uncle Howard was a face on the 1980s downtown New York scene and a filmmaking contemporary of Tom DiCillo and Jim Jarmusch (who exec produces and appears in footage old and new).
Young, handsome, talented and gay, Howard Brookner hung out with and documented radical talents like the writer William Burroughs and the theatre director Robert Wilson, and his first drama feature, ‘Bloodhounds on Broadway’ (a ‘ludicrous and mystifyingly convoluted plot’ groaned the original Time Out review) starred Matt Dillon and Madonna and was completed not long before his death from Aids in 1989.
‘Uncle Howard’ is his nephew Aaron’s honourable, tender attempt to rekindle his memory. He does this by digging into a film archive of his uncle’s work that had lingered for decades in The Bunker, the name given to Burroughs’s old Bowery hangout. There’s some great footage of Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and others on that scene, and Howard Brookner’s own brief bright flame proves well worth relighting.
Yet the personal quest element of the film is underwhelming and even a little forced. Perhaps it’s just incredibly hard to communicate the utterly genuine, painful emotions that Aaron clearly feels - but Brookner junior seems caught between being an archivist and digging into his own memories, emotion and pain. It’s a sad project, a testament to lives cut short and stories half-told.