Authors in Cinema – Kerouac

The character Joey Potter from Dawson’s Creek is not a fan of Jack Kerouac.

In season 6, episode 4, she is reading On The Road and says it sucks. She complains there is no story and it’s all macho posturing. I read it a long time ago and I didn’t get into it either. I think I’d approach it differently if I read it now.

It’s a novel mostly based on true events, just the names have been changed. The author’s pseudonym is Sal Paradise and tells of he and his friends travelling back and forth through America in the late 1940s. It gave rise to the Beat Culture of the time as its prose was typed on a continuous reel of paper during three weeks in April 1951.

Sam Riley as Kerouac

The movie does not ‘feel’ like the book.

While this upset some reviewers, it doesn’t bother me. It had a budget of $25 million, has an attractive cast who perform well, impressive art direction and is beautifully photographed.

In contrast the film Howl, which covers the 1957 obscenity trial of beat poet Allen Ginsberg, totally embraces the style of the writer with breakaway visual representations of his work. Ginsberg is also a main character in On The Road, renamed Carlo Marx.

While the book celebrates freedom, the movie is a morality tale.

In Ginsberg’s poems and in Kerouac’s novels, their friend, Neal Cassady, is often referenced. In On The Road, Neal is Dean Moriarty, a womanising free spirit who, like the others, enjoys drugs, sex and jazz. Unlike the others, he disrespects his wives, spawns children and shuns responsibility.

In the film the role is played charismatically by Garrett Hedlund. He and Sal (played by Sam Riley) share a strong bro-mance throughout while the script singles out aspects of the book that pull together a coherent story.

But this film still tells of a famous book that was written.

The actor, Sam Riley, looks nothing like Jack Kerouac, but he doesn’t have to. He’s playing the character Sal Paradise, based on the author. So none of the cast need to look like the real life people they represent.

Yet we still hear some prose from the novel and get to live aspects of Kerouac’s account of post-war America. The parties. The music. Rural and city life. And it’s all presented in a glossy well-produced film which shows how Kerouac penned his classic.

But remember, if someone asks if you’ve read On The Road, you can’t say “No, but I’ve seen the movie.” Both are different experiences.


Other ‘Authors In Cinema’ Posts:

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