Many of us have that uncle or other relative that really made an impression upon us and then died too early. Aaron Brookner had that kind of relationship with his uncle Howard. A relationship, despite his young age when his uncle succumbed to AIDS, that marked him so much that 26 years later he made a documentary picture about the man.
Despite the fact that his parents wanted him to be a lawyer, Howard Brookner was bitten by the film bug and decided to attend film school at NYC. Upon graduation his first two films were documentaries. The first having beat poet William S. Burroughs as its subject. An all-encompassing body of work the film took him five years to make. The relationship between director and subject became a rather close one with Howard being allowed into the writer’s inner sanctum. As result after Howard died his work was stored in Burrough’s infamous Bunker in the Bowery section of New York City. There it remained untouched and largely forgotten until his nephew Aaron came looking for it while making this film.
After his second documentary, Robert Wilson and the Civil Wars, was finished Hollywood came knocking and Howard began filming his first big picture, Bloodhounds on Broadway. The film starred Matt Dillon, Madonna, Randy Quaid, and Jennifer Grey. It was around this time that Howard was diagnosed with AIDS. During the filming he refused to take his medication as he felt it made him sleepy. His final years are poignantly portrayed in Uncle Howard. It becomes a clear picture of a man who lived his life with no regrets. The film was released shortly after his death.
The work or director Howard Brookner is important as it reflects the cultural revolution that was going on in NYC during the late 70s and early 80s. While watching the film you’ll catch glimpses of some rather famous people. Especially during the William S. Burroughs section. People like Ronald Reagan, Andy Warhol, Madonna, Frank Zappa, Spike Lee, John Waters, Spike Jonze, and Allen Ginsberg. That leads you to understand that while at the same time that Aaron is documenting his uncle’s life he is also giving the viewer a clear portrait of what was going on in NYC at the time. This was a different New York than the city it has become. It was a dirtier and grittier place that became the refuge for artists and outsiders. In other words, an exciting and cutting edge place where something was always happening. A tone of appreciation for that dynamic era flows throughout this section.
The journey that Aaron Brookner undertakes while filming the documentary, interviewing people like his grandmother (Howard’s mother), director Jim Jarmusch and director Sara Driver, is a rather personal one undertaking in a rather somber fashion. It is obvious that a lot of thought and feeling went into the making of this tribute to the man that marked his life.