Saturday, 6 August 2005

On the Road, the film version

Cassady and Kerouac

So according to the Hollywood Reporter, they're making a film version of On the Road, the classic Jack Kerouac novel, directed by Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries). I guess, thinking about it, the Motorcycle Diaries does parallel On the Road in that it tells the story through the eyes of someone in thrall to a much more charismatic real-life character - Che in the former, Dean Moriarty/Neal Cassady in the latter - and that's not always easy to convey in film. But despite liking that film, I remain skeptical of anyone's ability to adapt On the Road. On the Road was one of those books that made me want to go see America: the book for me felt alive with sheer manic energy, reckless and on the brink, sort of the literary equivalent of amphetamines. And that last paragraph - thinking of Dean Moriarty - always gets to me.

In retrospect, I owe big thanks to Tom Katzenbach, my English 'S' paper teacher who let me go off and basically read whatever I wanted within the general topic of "American literature of the 1960s" (with some generous stretching of the decade's boundaries). I guess I was about 17 or 18 then, and in a span of a few months blew my mind reading Kerouac, Ken Kesey, Thomas Pynchon, and Richard Farina's vastly underrated Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me, among others.

I know On the Road isn't necessarily the greatest work ever written (and yes, I know of Truman Capote's sneering "typing not writing" quote); for that matter, the Dharma Bums is probably the better Kerouac novel. But it meant something to me when I was younger, and I'm certainly not the only one: the film's going to have to live up to very high standards if it wants to touch the emotional core that the book did.

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