***Off The Road With On The Road- A Film Review
From The Pen Of Frank Jackman
On The Road, starring, Sam Riley, Garret Hedlund, Kristie Stewart, based on the be-bop Beat Generation novel by Jeanbon Kerouac, IFC Film, 2012
We will always have memories of blasted out Frisco town in the late 1940s, out on the Left Coast supplementing the Village in New York City as refuge and damn few other places, ready to take refugees, car-borne refugees, coming in from the cold war red scare Denver/Chi Town/Jersey Shore/Village/Lowell/Hullsville American dreaded night. We will always have Jack Kerouac’s novel, On The Road, that sent one, maybe two generations, on the road, on the road to some mystical discovery thing, some search for language to explain our short existence, to make sense of things in the modern world that has no time for reflection on the big cosmic questions. Weary feet, rain bedraggled, sun-blistered, snow-drifted hitchhike (but what do youth today of free rides and hard times thumb out against a misunderstanding world) roads to sort out things in good time.
We will always have Kerouac’s finely wrought be-bop word plays jumping off the page out in the desolate 1950s a chicken in every pot and two cars (if not three) cars in every garage, in every leafy suburban ranch house sub-division garage. We will always have Sal (a.k.a Jeanbon Kerouac late of working class kid mill town Lowell ready to break out at almost any price) and Dean, Dean Moriarty (a.k.a. Neal Cassady late of Denver reformatories and ready to break, break into any machine that moves, and maybe some that don’t), the father we did not know, could not know, while we were sitting on those Jersey shores, sweating out in those Ames cornfields, hell, even sitting on the seawall down in those old Hullsville beach fronts looking for the great blue-pink great American West night.
We will always have Charlie, Sonny, Slim, Big Red, the Duke, blowing out, trying to reach and sometimes making it, that high white note, after hours, after the paying customers, the carriage trade, went home to bed and they blew to heaven, or tried to, with the boys, with the guys who knew when that note floated out some funky cellar bar door winding its way down to the harbor.
We will always have Sal, Carlos, Bull, Dean and an ever changing assortment of , well, women, women, mainly, at their beck and call, riding, car-riding, riding hard over the hill and dale of this continent searching, well, just searching okay. We will always have the lost brothers, Sal and Dean, playing off of each other’s strengths (and weaknesses) as they try to make sense of their world, or if not sense then to keep high, keep moving, and keep listening. And we will always have a great American novel to pass on to the next wanderlust generation, if there is another wanderlust generation.
And that is exactly what is wrong with this long time in the making film adaptation of Kerouac’s cultural coming- of- age novel. I looked forward with great anticipation to the film, and came away with a fair- sized disappointment. Not with the main actors, Sam Riley, Garret Hedlund and Kristie Stewart since they were confined by the constricts of the way the director (and screen-writers) wanted to play the novel. Take away the drugs, sex, rock and roll (oops, be-bop jazz), and, oh yeah, driving at high speed and/or hitchhiking, and there is no glue holding this thing together.
Now no one can complain, or such complaints will go for naught after watching this film, that Kerouac was, frankly very oblique in his sexual references, and certainly in the amount of time he spent on discussing the ins and out of sex in the novel so it was quite disconcerting to find so much time spent on the sex scenes. Moreover, let’s face it women for the men, and it was mainly men, of the Beat generation women were ornaments, or drudges and while it does no good to project today’s mores backward they were kept around because as Dean/Neal shouted out one time “I love women.” End of story.
While Road is not strictly a buddy film I came out of the watching the film thinking that maybe, just, maybe, it is impossible to put this novel in cinematic form, there is perhaps too much stream of consciousness, too much introspection, too much angst to corral on film. We will however always have the novel, praise be.