★★★★ | Uncle Howard

Howard Brookner was three days shy of 35 when he died of AIDS in 1989.

Who was Howard Brookner? He was an American film director and famous for his college thesis documentary on William S. Burroughs – the American novelist who was also a member of the beat generation. Brookner also wrote and directed the feature-length film Bloodhounds of Broadway – a period comedic ensemble that starred several big names including Matt Dillon, Jennifer Grey, Anita Morris, Julie Hagerty, Randy Quaid, and Madonna.

But Brookner was more than just a film director – he was also an uncle, an uncle to Aaron Brookner. And Aaron has made a film about his uncle in a moving documentary simply titled Uncle Howard.

Aaron, 35 years old, was inspired by his uncle to make movies. In the documentary we see home video footage of Howard hanging out with Aaron when he was a kid, with Howard parading Aaron around on his shoulders. These scenes are touching and sentimental because it sets the tone of the short relationship Aaron had with his uncle, an uncle who passed away when Aaron was only 8-years-old, an uncle who made such an impression on him that decades later Aaron would want to make a documentary about him. Aaron’s early memories of Uncle Howard included being on the set of Bloodhounds of Broadway, a film that turned out to be Howards only major studio film, and unfortunately, he passed away before its release.

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Aaron wanted to seek out Howard’s original film footage for his Burroughs documentary, and found it in a place called The Bunker in lower Manhattan, the former home of Burroughs. There are scenes of Aaron watching the old tapes which are then inter-spliced with the actual film footage, which gives us, and Aaron, a glimpse of the early work of his uncle, an uncle with high doses of passion and talent. The old footage also includes glimpses of Allen Ginsberg and Andy Warhol, while both new and old footage shows Jim Jarmusch, with Howard in the 1980’s, and then with Aaron in the present day.

The writer Brad Gooch gives us a raw insight into his ten-year relationship with Howard, while discussing the loss of Howard and many friends during the height of the AIDS pandemic, scenes that are emotional, touching and sentimental. But what most pulls at the heartstrings is Aaron’s conversations with Howard’s mother, Elaine, who walks down memory lane with Aaron about the life of Howard and how he was taken from them at such a young age. Uncle Howard is a film with a personal touch, and Aaron has successfully delivered a fitting tribute to an uncle who died way too young.

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I wish I had an Uncle Howard.

About the author: Tim Baros
Tim Baros writes film and theatre articles/ reviews for Pride Life and The American magazines and websites, as well as for Hereisthecity.com, Blu-RayDefinition.com and TheGayUK.com. He has also written for In Touch and TNT Magazines, SquareMile.com and LatinoLife.co.uk. He is a voting member for the UK Regional Critics Circle and the Gay & Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association (GALECA – of which he is the UK representative). In addition, he has produced and directed two films: The Shirt and Rex Melville Desire: The Musical.