The personal story of Aaron Brookner is narrated with great subtlety. Howard Brookner’s mother is surprisingly honest about how shocked she and her family were when they came to the realization that Howard was gay. Brad Gooch, who was Howard’s lover provides a first-person account of the suffering Howard went through when he was sick with Aids. There is some celebration as well. Jim Jarmush, who worked with Howard on the 1983 film Burroughs is on hand to recap on the days when one could not step back in the East Village without standing on John Cage, Patti Smith, or Laurie Anderson. All these characters appear in the documentary that, though exploring a period not so far behind, seems a bit like from a different millennium.
The archival film presented by Howard’s nephew, who bears a close resemblance to him, depicts Howard Brookner as a charismatic, vibrant presence; a hardworking person with a strong and sometimes careless, pleasure-seeking tendency. One of Howard’s friends reminisces about their shared heroin addiction. Accounts of creating Bloodhounds of Broadway, Robert Wilson, and The Civil War, and the Burroughs are small studies in dedication. Howard’s first two films were documentaries, and he was serious enough about the characters in the documentaries that he spent years with them trying to understand them. He started the 1983 documentary Burroughs about William Burroughs while he was still a film student at NYU. It was during this time that two of his fellow students who would later go on to become filmmakers Tom DiCillo and Jim Jarmush worked alongside Howard Brookner on the project. Howard started working on Bloodhounds when he had contracted AIDS, a disease he frequently muses on in videos from his diary. According to Brad Gooch, Howard Brookner had a difficult time with taking AIDS medication. Whenever he took AZT, his thinking wasn’t clear and he wasn’t productive in such a state so he decided to suspend his medication when he was making the film.
In the documentary, Aaron Brookner speaks fondly about his childhood memories with his uncle, and how it became an inspiration to follow in his uncle’s footsteps as a filmmaker. Although the documentary has flashing glimpses of New York Stars of the 1980s such as Laurie Anderson, Madonna, and Patti Smith, it is more of a dual depiction of two linked artists, one just beginning his journey, and the other gone too soon, than it is a nostalgic evocation.
The documentary seems to share some thematic aspects of the inspiring memoir Just Kids by Patti Smith, which is about the early experiences of the poet with Robert Mapplethorpe in the city. Although the main years being explored in the set appear about ten years later, the image of a creative Lower East Side arts scene evokes similar emotions of fondness. Aaron Brookner, reminiscing of the past from the present day, points to the loss of St. Vincent Hospital and the Chelsea Hotel as signs of what Manhattan has developed into. Although Chelsea still stands, its reputation of bohemian folly is long behind. St. Vincent on the other hand, which is where Howard Brookner and countless others received treatment for AIDS-related illnesses, has since been brought down to pave way for luxury condos.