Gay Jewish filmmaker Howard Brookner epitomized the promise and talent of New York’s vibrant independent film scene of the 1980s. His breakthrough 1983 documentary about Beat icon William S. Burroughs, Burroughs: The Movie, launched what should have been a long and stellar career. But in 1989, at age 34, just as he was set to release his first high-profile movie (a period piece called Bloodhounds of Broadway, starring Matt Dillon, Jennifer Grey and Madonna), Brookner died of AIDS and has been largely forgotten. Uncle Howard is a poignant act of documentary remembrance created by Howard’s nephew Aaron, who as a child hero-worshiped his dashing uncle but never really got to know him. In an effort to reconstruct Howard’s avant garde life, Aaron embarks on a treasure hunt in New York City to assemble memories, anecdotes and images from Howard’s remarkable circle of downtown auteurs, including director Jim Jarmusch (who was Howard’s boom operator on Burroughs) and cantankerous poet John Giorno, who has locked away Howard’s entire archive inside “the Bunker,” a.k.a. Burroughs’ intact old apartment. Aaron manages to unleash a flood of images and memories that become not only a touching family album, but also an important window onto the cinematic counterculture of the 1980s and one artist’s contribution to it, cut off too soon.
—Peter L. Stein