Yay, young athletic movie stars with hot bods brooding and smoking cigarettes and furrowing their brows in a completely unnecessary and unwanted movie adaptation of On the Road! Why, who do we have here? Remember Garrett Hedlund, the laconic wisecracking bro man dude from TRON: Legacy? He's been cast as the iconic febrile high-adrenaline maniac Dean Moriarty. This seems like extremely bad casting judgment, until you step back and remember that this whole production is a living embodiment of bad judgment. Seeing this movie is gonna be like playing William Tell with your wife in Mexico, only you're the wife!
Isn't it glaringly obvious that what makes On the Road such a great novel isn't the narrative—which is what a movie delivers through images—it's Kerouac's unique, exhilarating prose. We've all seen photography of America's majestic grandeur, but what this movie will never be able to capture is Keruoac's expression of it through the written word. Even if they had the actor playing Sal Paradise (Sam Riley—he's aiight; he was in Control) doing a voice-over reading the bloody book in its entirety, it would still probably be a desecration. Whose boneheaded idea was it to cannibalize this singular literary achievement into a goddamn talking picture show anyway? Oh, right.
Isaac Gewirtz, who wrote this book about Keruoac, curates the Berg Collection at the NYPL and oversees all the Kerouac holdings there. We asked him for his opinion about this inevitable piece of shit:
On the Road
has all of the ingredients for a good film—strong and vivid characters whose relationships change dramatically as they learn about themselves and each other; compelling plot lines; the grand vistas of American landscapes; and the generational layers of cultures and peoples embodied in the small town and big city neighborhoods that Kerouac was able to discern so acutely and bringing so convincingly to life.
The one missing ingredient from any movie based on the book, and this would be an important absence, is Kerouac’s lyrical prose—unless this new film serves up liberal doses of voice-over readings from the novel. But Kerouac would have liked to see the book made into a film. He was a film buff (especially of the French cinema), and he imagined in one of his diary entries how marvelous it would be if Shakespeare had been alive to write a screenplay about the Napoleonic wars. He even wrote draft treatments of a screenplay for an early, Old West/New West version of On the Road, and as a young man in New York read screenplays for a Hollywood film company.
I just hope that in this new film Kerouac and Cassady are not portrayed as hipster caricatures. We should take to heart what the Beat novelist John Clellon Holmes wrote about Neal Cassady in a 1978 letter: “Yes, he spoke grammatically—though he used street-idioms. But he never slipped into the metronomic & idiot use of ‘you knows,’ ‘likes’ etc. that made the 60’s such a verbal wasteland. [...] He was never your monosyllabic grunting ‘hipster.’ His vocabulary was large & serviceable: most thieves, junkies, whores, ‘outsiders,’ are like this; it’s only the middle-class rebels & drop-outs who put down language—a resentment of Papa. Real people are way beyond this, and language & knowledge are constantly called upon to explain their special view of existence.”
The sad thing is, we'll probably end up seeing this at some point because of our shameful Kirsten Dunst fetish. Shut up, she was phenomenal in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind! In case you're wondering when you need to start ignoring this redundant folly in earnest, it's rumored to be premiering at Cannes this year, according to The Hollywood Reporter.