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By David Finkelstein | August 18, 2004

“Kill Your Darlings” is an exploration of the myths and realities of romantic love, told through the story of a young woman’s passionate affair with a handsome man, their breakup, and her recovery. This story is not told through traditional narrative, but through an evocative collage of images, sounds, music, poetic narration, comic vignettes, as well as interviews with a wide range of people on the topic of romantic love. The style of “Kill Your Darlings” frequently references silent film, including Chaplinesque sequences in which the heroine, in fast motion, stabs her heart, tries to climb Robert Indiana’s sculpture of the word “LOVE,” or throws her boyfriend out of bed. The images are colorized in a style reminiscent of 19th century postcards. They are often slowed down and distorted, as if an old film were being shown on a faulty projector. The film’s images are artfully blended into an ongoing, evocative montage. The soundtrack mixes the poetic and well-written voiceover text (“I recognized your distance more than I recognized you”) with a wide variety of original alternative rock music, as well as sound effects such as flowing water. The music often is a strong foreground element in the film, supporting the visual collage with powerful instrumentals and lyrics which take the viewer on an emotional journey through the love affair along with the heroine.

As the heroine, filmmaker Flicker gives a strong performance, and shows a particular flair for comic clowning. Her reading of the voiceover text is heartfelt, understated, and romantic without being sentimental.

The visual effects and the collage technique are emotionally expressive and always serve to advance the narrative of the film. There are no gratuitous or arbitrary visual choices; every image, color, and sound effect serves a purpose in the narrative and poetic structure. Moreover, with its amalgam of silent film, comedy, and expressive, poetic collage, the film has a distinct and appealing style.

The one element of the film that I felt was not successful was the inclusion of the interviews in the sound track. The people who are interviewed muse on the topic of True Love in a superficial way, and none of them offer important insights or even seem to understand much about the topic. Nor do most of them speak in a deeply personal way. Moreover, the inclusion of these interviews in the soundtrack does not add to the film, since everything that they are saying is already being said by the powerful visual images and the strong narrative text, and being said in a more effective way.

I can see that these interviews probably formed the core research which became the genesis for the film, which may be why the filmmakers did not perceive that they did not need to incorporate the interviews themselves into the film’s soundtrack. This is their first film. It often takes filmmakers a while to learn that the material which inspires a film does not always have to be included in the final product.

One of the ‘documentary’ aspects which I was glad to see included was the footage of an older couple, shown at the end. This couple, who had been together for most of their lives, really did understand what love is, and they formed a refreshing and reassuring ballast to the confusion voiced by the younger characters and interviewees. It was also unusual for the filmmakers, who are themselves younger, to acknowledge that older people have wisdom and experience which they can learn from. But this acknowledgement is in keeping with the general spirit of intelligent open-mindedness which informs the sensibility of the film.

“Kill Your Darlings” is a successful harnessing of visual collage, music, and narrative to express an aspect of the human spirit in a stylish and original way.

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