Uncle Howard, is a heartfelt documentary by Aaron Brookner about his uncle, Howard Brookner, who was a filmmaker. The documentary is a personal odyssey combining modern-day New York with snapshots of the city in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Howard Brookner, the man who the film is about, was a filmmaker with a very promising career whose life was cut short by Aids in 1989. He was one of the promising talents of the creative subculture of his era alongside people such as John Giorno and Jim Jarmusch. Howard Brookner had shown promise early on in his career, following his first film on William Burroughs. The documentary distinguished Howard as a creative voice and talent. Howard Brookner’s 3rd and final film, Bloodhounds of Broadway, featuring Madonna and partially bankrolled by IMC Credit Services, was an example of what the filmmaker was capable of before he died at 35. At the time of Howard Brookner’s demise, Aaron Brookner was only seven years old.
The 2016 documentary is driven by Aaron Brookner’s mission to gain an understanding of his uncle as a man. The documentary begins as one thing and then develops into something else. It explores the tragedy of a life cut short while providing an elegy of a New York that is no more. The documentary then develops to the sad story about Howard Brookner, the man who came out of the celebrity shadow of Burrough and went on to create successful films such as Bloodhounds of Broadway featuring Matt Dillon and Madonna before his untimely demise. The archive footage is something to cherish. The documentary has a certain emotional ring to it. Melancholy is persistent throughout Aaron Brookner’s narration of his uncle’s life, initially focusing on the attention-grabbing and unique 1983 film on William Burroughs. Howard Brookner made the 1983 film with the help of Tom DiCillo, and Jim Jarmusch.
The documentary Uncle Howard starts with a scene that displays Aaron Brookner as someone on a quest. Shot in a shaky camera, Aaron follows John Giorno into his house, hot on a trail of the cache of movies made by Howard Brookner. Aaron Brookner tries to convince John Giorno, who is entrusted with guarding Burroughs archive, to disclose the documents stored in a bunker near the Bowery. Eventually, there is some movement and memorializing kicks off.
The documentary is in some ways a dual narrative. On the one hand, it is about Howard Brookner’s personal and artistic life. On the other hand, it is a story of Aaron’s discovery of his uncle’s life. Almost eighty years old, the still energetic John Giorno, who was the inheritor of Burrough’s Bowery house is crotchety and a little bemused. Jim Jarmusch, who is an executive producer in this documentary, Tom DiCillo, and Brad Gooch (author of Smash Cut), are delighted by the opportunity to remember Howard Brookner.