Sunday, March 31, 2013

"On The Road": Kerouac's Beat Classic In Film

A film adaptation of Jack Kerouac's 1957 Beat literary classic "On The Road" has been a long time coming, and it finally fell to Walter Salles, a Brazilian director, to undertake it. "On The Road" stars Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty, the fictional name for Neal Cassady, and Sam Riley as Sal Paradise, the autobiographical Kerouac character. Kerouac and poet Allen Ginsberg–"Carlo Marx," played by Tom Sturridge–were enthralled by Cassady's rootlessness, recklessness, fast driving, sexual escapades and endless talk. The film depicts Moriarty and Paradise's driving trips in a 1949 Hudson across the country and to New Orleans, where they stay with Old Bull Lee, aka writer William Burroughs, played by Viggo Mortensen, and to Mexico. Their travels are fueled by jazz, including a nightclub performance of Slim Gaillard's nonsensical "Yep Roc Heresay," drugs, liquor, orgies and the theft of gas and food. Panoramic views of the American West approximate the grandeur described in the novel.

Just as the novel did, the film also portrays the underside to the charismatic Moriarty. Married to Camille, aka Carolyn Cassady, played by Kirsten Dunst, Moriarty is also involved with the teenage Marylou, based on LuAnne Henderson and played by Kristen Stewart (Carolyn was Cassady's second wife; LuAnne his first and third). Old Bull Lee, a heroin addict, warns Paradise about Moriarty's "psychopathic irresponsibility," and both women end up disappointed by him. Moriarty also abandons Paradise, desperately ill, in Mexico City.

The film is a fine rendering of "On The Road," but it faces limitations. No movie can approximate the experience of Kerouac's "spontaneous prose." His stream-of-consciousness style has a power and vitality that blend and flow perfectly with the roads upon which he traveled. That dimension can only be experienced by reading the novel.

Review written in memory of Hal Goldman (1954-2010), Beat scholar, blues brother.
"Strange now to think of you, gone...while I walk on the sunny pavement of Greenwich Village." - Allen Ginsberg, "Kaddish"


Michael The Molar Maven said...

I'm ashamed to admit that I still have not read "On The Road". Some books lose their impact with the passage of time. You tell me, is it too late?

Jeff Tone said...

Not too late. "On The Road" is a classic. It's of its time, but it's also timeless. Start reading!