Jack Kerouac… Movie Star?

Ok, yes, I’ve been on a bit of a Beat kick lately, and serendipitously enough, I came across this a few night’s ago while catching up on the day’s news. According to a letter that was auctioned off last week at Christie’s, Jack Kerouac had written to Marlon Brando in 1957, in an attempt to convince him to purchase the rights to Kerouac’s novel On the Road, and turn it into a film.

The letter begins,

I’m praying that you’ll buy ON THE ROAD and make a movie of it. Don’t worry about the structure, I know to compress and re-arrange the plot a bit to give a perfectly acceptable movie-type structure: making it into one all-inclusive trip instead of the several voyages coast-to-coast in the book, one vast round trip from New York to Denver to Frisco to Mexico to New Orleans to New York again. I visualize the beautiful shots could be made with the camera on the front seat of the car showing the road (day and night) unwinding into the windshield, as Sal and Dean yak. I wanted you to play the part because Dean (as you know) is no dopey hotrodder but a real intelligent (in fact Jesuit) Irishman. You play Dean and I’ll play Sal (Warner Bros. mentioned I play Sal) and I’ll show you how Dean acts in real life.

Brando declined to pick up the project, and as all Kerouac fans know, after 1961 the author became  somewhat reclusive, and died unfortunately young in 1969. He was only 47. Thankfully, even through these darker years he continued writing, laying bare his experiences and anxieties. It was during this time that he wrote the incredibly moving Big Sur, one of my favorite Kerouac novels.

It is only this year that a film based on On The Road is being released, starring  Sam Riley as Sal Paradise and Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty, along with Kristen Stewart and Kirsten Dunst. I have to admit that I’m dreading this a bit. I tend to have a pretty terrible relationship with movies made from the books that I love, and with Kerouac, so much of what I love comes not merely from the narrative (which is inevitably altered to adapt it to film), but from the words themselves, the rhythm of the words, and the very structure of the novel… none of which can be translated to the film. This is a book that demands that you to spend time with it, slowly finding yourself in sync with its rhythm, and allowing that rhythm to move you through the pages as whatever pace it decides. I cannot see that happening in the film version. Even Kerouac in his letter to Brando acknowledges the changes that would need to be made and I don’t think I like them. Perhaps I’m being far too cynical, but I’ve read On the Road so many times that no casting agent, director, or actor can recreate what I (and countless other readers) have already seen in our minds eyes. That being said, I’m sure I’ll watch it once it’s released, and hey, it gives me an excuse to pull my dusty copy off the shelf and reread it.

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9 thoughts on “Jack Kerouac… Movie Star?

  1. I too am looking forward to the movie. I recently watched long shelved documentary footage of Kesey’s magical bus ride across America to the World’s Fair in New York, 1964, released a the doc, The Magic Trip. Driving the bus, as recounted in Tom Wolf’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Trip, was an older, more manic, Neal Cassidy. Also, years ago I remember coming across a tattered looking soft-cover of Cassidy’s book, The First Third, in the Banff Public Library. (Heaven forbid) I have never seen the volume again and I should have scarfed it!

    Oh, and one more thing. I’m pretty sure certain scenes of the upcoming On The Road film were shot mere blocks from where I’m writing this now. How hip is that!

  2. Hmmm. Wonder where the letter came from. Brando’s estate maybe. In a documentary I saw at Tribeca last year, Carolyn Cassidy (Neal’s wife and Jack’s lover) was having someone pick up boxes and boxes of memorabilia and letters to auction of.

    I know what you mean about books into movies. It’s good to tread lightly. This seems (except for Dunst) a cast without star power though, which may bode well. We’ll see.

    As you know Jack drank himself to death. I can still see Jack on Buckley’s Firing Line which has to be one of the strangest (and ultimately, saddest) tv interviews I’ve ever seen.

    fyi a typo in you header and did you happen to catch Science Friday yesterday??

  3. And I meant to ask you, if a guy were going to download one Grateful Dead album from iTunes, compilation or other, as representative, what would you suggest?

  4. Have you had a chance to read the Kerouac/Burroughs book, ‘And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks?’ I wouldn’t mind seeing that made in to a movie. I especially like it because it’s NYC oriented.

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