Would the film have the same magnetic pull as the book? I guess Sal and Dean’s disregard for conformity during the post war America would strike a chord with the youth of today, or would it? Are the youth of today ready for Jack Kerouac?
1950s & “On the Road”
Back in the late forties/early fifties a number of writers rebelled against conventional values. The “beats” went out of their way to challenge the patterns of respectability and shock the rest of the world. That all sounds very rock’n’roll, but why did it start?
During the 1950s, a sense of uniformity pervaded American society. Conformity was common, as young and old alike followed group norms rather than striking out on their own. Though men and women had been forced into new employment patterns during WW II, once the war was over, traditional roles were reaffirmed. Men expected to be the breadwinners; women, even when they worked, assumed their proper place was at home. Jack Kerouac reacted strongly, as did the other Beats, to the post-WWII 1950s consumerism. He tried to break out of this suburban consumerist middle-class conventional lifestyle, and this is reflected in his writings. Kerouac captured the turmoil of a restless generation caught between the cold war values of the Eisenhower era and the dawning of the “Age of the Aquarius”.
Kerouac typed his best-selling novel “On the Road” on a 75-meter roll of paper. Lacking accepted punctuation and paragraph structure, the book glorified the possibilities of the free life. Musicians rebelled as well. Elvis Presley popularized black music in the form of rock and roll, and shocked Americans with his ducktail haircut and undulating hips. In addition, Elvis and other rock and roll singers demonstrated that there was a white audience for black music, thus testifying to the increasing integration of American culture.
So now we know a little of what’s behind “On the Road” How will Francis Ford Coppola breathe life to something that’s more than just a story? Would he focus on the relationship between Jack & Neal Cassidy who provided the impetus for Jacks adventures?
Will it be the ultimate road movie of two friends travelling across the country looking for something new, possibly the new American dream or old American values? I sincerely hope it won’t end up an over the top start studded film that loses the true meaning of the book due to the ego of a couple of actors. It’s almost like the ultimate collaboration “Kerouac & Coppola” pretty much the coming together of two artists similar to the collaboration of Kerouac and Robert Frank’s photography, the jazzy poetics of Kerouac’s writing & Frank’s black’n’white prints. That distinctive and irony-drenched wisdom of Franks photographs framing the twisted words of Jack Kerouac. Will Coppola do the same?
For those who haven’t heard of Robert Frank, in 1955, the Swiss photographer Robert Frank travelled throughout the United States by car and returned with a bleak portrait of what the American road had to offer. Jack pretty much had done the same thing with a pen; some would argue Jack wrote of the pure beautiful side of his own America. And Frank captured the bleak side?
I guess through the lens of Francis Ford Coppola we’ll see new images of joy & sadness found in the look of waitresses, gas station attendants, general food stores workers, bars and jazz clubs.
I presume Coppola will draw upon what he had previously done in filming two of SE Hintons books Rumble Fish & The Outsiders by presenting a landscape of people and places looking for new hope and promise. Whoever plays the part of Jack I hope he’ll bring back a little of him, just like when I heard the tape of Jack reading from “On the Road”. It was electrifying! Originally recorded in 1955 it captured my imagination and brought words off the page and into the air.
As for the film soundtracks Coppola could use a song funnily enough called ‘On the Road‘ - music by Kerouac, based on an old French Canadian folk tune. I suppose you could include anything by Muddy Waters, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley. Although it wouldn’t be a beat film without Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.
I guess it would be a sin leaving out Bob Dylan, yeah I know his music came later on down the beat time line, but to leave out such classics as Desolation Row & Subterranean Homesick Blues would be blasphemy! It’s a shame Dylan never met Kerouac.
So to sum up, would it be a narrative driven black’n’white road movie loosely based on Jacks book or will it be a nostalgic look back on the exciting birth of a new generation and the start of Jacks descent into loneliness and despair. I suppose it could also be a good honest down to earth adaptation of Jacks life. Whatever Coppola does it’ll hopefully turn a few people on to reading a true all American classic.
Sean McGahey © 2006 [This article was first published at The Beat