Jack Kerouac: On the Road to box office losses?

With an intricately complex narrative that defies all conventional forms of book writing, the bible of the Beats, On The Road, is to be Hollywood-ised.

With an already impressive line-up (Sam Reilly of Control fame looks as though he will fit into the shoes of Sal Paradise quite nicely), and Brazilian director Walter Salles, who was selected after producer Francis Ford Cappolla watched The Motorcycle Diaries – is this too good to be true?

I am skeptical.  And not because I don’t think it will make a great movie: I can easily imagine a husky-voiced-American narrator opening the movie with that always impacting introduction:
…with the coming of Dean Moriarty began the part of my life you could call my life on the road.
But because I think the challenge is too great. This autobiographical book demands to be read closely. And not once or twice, but several times. So complex is it, that the eagerly awaited adaptation will signal a sigh of relief for those who have tried and tried but never succeeded in reaching the depths of the plot or realising the significance of the story.
Yet aside from my reservations regarding the practical challenge of adapting a novel like On The Road – I think it will lose it’s magic. No doubt about it, On The Road is less a book for reading than it is a story for experiencing.
And the magic I speak of lies in its elegance, brilliance and unique Beat style. So unique is the writing style, Truman Capote famously accused:
That’s not writing, that’s typing.

Kerouac typed the story on what he defined as the ‘scroll’: made up of tracing paper, the continuous, 120-foot scroll was cut up and taped together. The prose was single-spaced, without margins or paragraph breaks. This, the essence of the story, and the legend behind the book, cannot be replicated on screen.
Yet many will argue that a $25 million, box office hit, is exactly the kind of experience that fans of On The Road desire – a visual feast of jazz, poetry, drugs and the journey of life.
So perhaps I judge too quickly. As Sal reflects in the conclusion:
nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old

And nobody knows what will happen with the success of this film: a cheapened, wasted effort on those who know nothing of the book or of the Beats; or a cinematic triumph.

Nobody knows.


5 thoughts on “Jack Kerouac: On the Road to box office losses?

  1. With the right director and actors, “On the Road” could be a great movie. “Easy Rider” was sort of “On the Road” on motorcycles in the Sixties, and that movie did alright. It will be difficult for the director to capture the free spirit and exuberance of when Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady (Dean Moriarty) were living those times. Those times were totally different from today when we’ve pretty much lost that wide-eyed exuberance of life.

    • Thanks for your input anokatony – the style of the Beats generation is certainly unique, and I hope Walter Salles and his crew manage to capture it effectively.

      I see it as being a bit like chinese whispers – how many times can an experience be re-represented without losing that original “free spirit and exuberance” that you speak of.

  2. The script is actually available via On the Road fans site. Films can sometimes debase the preciousness of novel..dumb it down etc.
    The spontaneous writing style of Kerouac is great. Used more in his other novels. I have actually written a bio-pic on Kerouac (yet to be sold) – the demands of the film market call for different drammatic beats than novel. I practise sketch writing stream of consciousness promoted by Kerouac…that’s a difficult one to catch in film.

    • Thanks for the comment Damian! On The Road is so defining it would be a real shame if it were dumbed down. Really interesting though and that is my main concern, can film catch that stream of concious you talk about… I suppose we’ll need to wait and see.

  3. Pingback: The Great Gatsby movie – miss or hit? « Little Interpretations

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