From Hogwarts to Columbia: Daniel Radcliffe Plays Young Allen Ginsberg

April 20, 2012Bookmark and Share

Daniel Radcliffe strode up the steps of Low Library, dressed in a tweed jacket, sweater vest and a tie. With a rucksack slung over his shoulder and horn-rimmed glasses perched on his nose, he was the very picture of a first-year Columbia College student—circa 1943.

Radcliffe, right, filmed scenes at campus locations including, College Walk, Low Library and Havemeyer Hall. (Image credit: Barbara Alper/Columbia University)
Radcliffe, right, filmed scenes at campus locations including, College Walk, Low Library and Havemeyer Hall.
Image credit: Barbara Alper/Columbia University

The actor was on campus for several days this month to film scenes for the independent movie Kill Your Darlings, written and directed by John Krokidas, in which he plays the Beat poet and Columbia legend Allen Ginsberg (CC ’47) as a young man.

Excited, current Columbia students—many of whom grew up reading and watching the Harry Potter series for which Radcliffe is best known—crowded around the set. One film studies graduate student, John Foss, (SoA’14), was also working.

“We urge productions shooting on campus to utilize School of the Arts film students as interns and paid staff whenever the opportunity presents itself,” said Joseph Riccuitti, the University’s executive director of events management, who has overseen film shoots at Columbia that include Premium Rush, Law & Order, Legally Blonde and any number of commercials.

The producer of Kill Your Darlings, Rose Ganguzza, a 1972 graduate of the School of International and Public Affairs, has taught graduate-level film courses and regularly hires students to expose them to the filmmaking process.

“It’s important to me to try to involve as many film students in productions as possible,” said Ganguzza, previously a broadcast journalist in Brazil. “There’s no substitute for hands-on experience because what we do is so complex. It is a special treat to have Columbia students involved, and New York is a great canvas.”

Kill Your Darlings, which is expected to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2013 and be screened at Cannes the following May, chronicles an unsavory moment in the early years of the great writers of the Beat generation—Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. Kerouac attended Columbia on a football scholarship, but dropped out.

The incident centers on Lucien Carr, a classmate of Ginsberg and Kerouac credited with uniting the group, which Ginsberg called the “Libertine Circle.” Burroughs, who did not attend Columbia but lived in New York, had known Carr growing up in St. Louis.

One evening in Riverside Park Carr stabbed David Kammerer, a former Washington University lecturer who had been Carr’s Boy Scout leader. Kammerer, smitten with Carr, had followed him to New York and became part of the young Beats' circle. Carr dumped the body in the Hudson River and confessed his crime to Burroughs and then Kerouac. Together Carr and Kerouac buried the victim’s glasses in Morningside Park. Carr pleaded guilty to manslaughter and served 18 months at the Elmira Reformatory before going on to a long and respected journalism career as a writer and editor at United Press International.

The film’s cast includes Michael C. Hall, of Showtime’s Dexter, playing Carr, Kyra Sedgwick, comedian David Cross and Jennifer Jason Leigh, as well as some young, lesser-known actors in leading roles.

A recent New York Times story about the writers' life on Morningside Heights said, “Any pilgrim’s archeological Beat tour, inspired by the movie or not, must begin with the university itself.”

Annette Insdorf, chair of Columbia’s undergraduate film division, was impressed by the Kill Your Darlings script after reading it. “Seeing Krokidas’s short film Slo-Mo at the Telluride Film Festival a few years ago convinced me that he is a director of real talent,” she said. “We communicated about this promising first feature and agreed that Columbia University should be well represented, in everything from locations to crew.”

Scenes were filmed at campus locations, including Low Plaza, Low Library, and Havermeyer Hall, which appear much as they did when the Beats were students.

“The most important thing for me to transmit in the film is when Allen Ginsberg first gets to college, when he walks onto campus for the first time, that feeling of awe when you first walk on Low Plaza,” Ganguzza said. “I spent endless hours talking to the cinematographer about how important it is to capture that feeling and the grandeur of it all.”

—by Record Staff

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