The heart sinks...

Monday, March 19, 2012

The heart sinks... learn that a film version of Jack Kerouac's 1957 novel, "On The Road," has been completed and is set for release this year.

While I've gotten past it, and the other literary works of that period which informed my late teens and early 20s, I haven't forgotten how important that book became to me after local attor­ney Bill Burcher recommended it.

I also haven't forgotten how abysmal have been the pre­vious attempts to film anything of Kerouac's or others with whom he ran throughout the '40s and '50s... the titles are myriad: "The Subterraneans," "Heart Beat," "The Last Time I Committed Suicide," "The Naked Lunch," "Beat," "Neal Cassady" and "Howl."

(Also listed were movies about those writers which attempted to capture the ineffable essense referred to as "The Beat Generation."

Not included was a 1959 exploitation flick of that title by Albert Zugsmith during his shoestring schlock­meister period.)

The sole positive glimmer in the production is the presence of Francis Ford Coppola, not as Director but Executive Producer, and he hasn't made too many missteps in that capacity over the past 50 years.

But I just don't know how Kerouac's autobiographical narrative can translate onto the screen.

I am also reminded of a bitchy comment author Truman Capote made in 1959 on David Susskind's "Open End" in dismissing Kerouac and his fellow "Beats:"

"None of these people have anything interesting to say and none of them can write, not even Mr. Kerouac... It isn't writing at all – it's typing."

One can understand Capote's jealousy and distress at the sudden emergence of Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and poet Allen Ginsberg... his own beautifully evocative 1948 debut novel, "Other Voices, Other Rooms," was brilliantly crafted, one one must imagine painstakingly so.

It was understandable that the previous decade's literary wunderkind was resentful of Kerouac, and displayed it through scorn for the "bop prosady" style of the slightly older writer.

Ironically, Capote's novel, which no one tried to film until the mid-'90s, had it's premiere at the 1995 Hamptons International Film Festival, and was then heard of no more.

Both men's heralded debut novels owe their success to their writing... Capote's lush prose, Kerouac's excited rhythms... infinitely more than their narratives, so film adaptations are necessarily problematic.

I hope the upcoming release does better... but confidence is not high.


1. Coach K said...

The passages from the book used in the trailer sent chills up my spine. I think something will be lost in the tranlation from masterpiece to movie. I am not sure that will be a bad thing.

I still think it's un-filmable for the reasons already cited.

2. Jim Cordo said...

A beatnik! Things are so much clearer for me now.smiley

Nope... too young to be a beatnik, too old to be a hippie!

It's a fact of my birth... I had no say in the matter.

3. Rob F. said...

Filming anything by Burroughs is always going to be difficult. There are only two directors I can think of offhand who would have been a good choice for "Naked Lunch:" David Lynch, and David Cronenberg. "Lynch + Burroughs" is an equation that I'm not sure I want to see the other side of the equals sign. (But the possibilities are intriguing!) Cronenberg got the gig and did a respectable job. The movie is something of a mess, but that's not surprising considering the starting material. The film was a non-entity at the box office, but actually garnered largely positive critical reviews (69% "Fresh" at Rotten Tomatoes). So don't despair just yet.

I can't imagine a Lynch "interpretation," but Cronenberg (with Peter Weller perfectly cast as the Burroughs character) did a superb job with the hallucinatory and nightmarish translation of the novel which I had been reading in various chunks in "Black Mountain Review" and "Everygreen Review" since the late '50s after Allen Ginsberg made reference to the then work-in-progress as "an unpublishable novel which will drive everyone mad."

But with all due respect, Rob, Burroughs's novel is extremely visual while Kerouac's book, written in the "spontaneous prose" style with which the author experimented throughout the '50s, is more music than movie.

And Cronenberg is such a freak! Look at his filmography, from "Rabid" to "Videodrome" to "eXistenZ," Burroughs could not have wished for a more ideal filmmaker to bring his novel to the screen.
– Dean

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