By Margaret Hedderman
The trailer for the film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s sprawling portrait of the Beat Generation, On The Road, was recently released. The film will follow May 23rd in France and Belgium, and later this year for the United States. Purists are most likely extremely disappointed Francis Ford Coppola (who owns the film rights) finally won a 30-year battle to see the story on film. Film lovers should be excited – the adaptation is produced by Coppola, directed by Walter Salles (of The Motorcycle Diaries), and written by Jose Rivera (also of The Motorcycle Diaries.) And how do purest film lovers feel? We’ll admit the film will probably be a disappointment, but see it anyway.
The film’s saga began long before Coppola bought the rights in 1979. In 1957, Kerouac wrote Marlon Brando a letter asking him to play Dean Moriarty. Brando never responded – possibly because Kerouac wanted to place the camera in the front seat of a car “showing the road (day and night) unwinding into the windshield, as Sal and Dean yak.” The rights were later offered to Warner Brothers for $150,000 by Kerouac’s agent, but turned down.
Coppola tried at least 5 times to produce the film. At various points in time Brad Pitt, Colin Farrell, Billy Crudup, and Ethan Hawke were attached to the film. In 1995, even Allen Ginsberg (who was the inspiration for Carlo Marx in the book) was brought on help with casting.
You have to wonder – should Hollywood have taken the hint? Was On The Road never meant to leave Kerouac’s hallowed pages? Or is this film a testament to perseverance?
On the Road brings relative new comer Sam Riley to the role of Sal Paradise and Garrett Hedlund to the mythical Dean Moriarty. With the exception of Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, and Steve Buscemi, the cast is quite new to the scene – including Kirsten Stewart of the Twilight series as Marylou. Dean Moriarty’s wife, Marylou is described as “a luscious blonde” – everything the simpering Stewart is not. Perhaps it’s my cynical side, but could the casting of Stewart be a half-hearted attempt to attract a young audience to unfamiliar material not easily relatable to today’s youth? Just a thought.
It’s a difficult story to fit neatly into the Hollywood three act structure. Kerouac’s rambling narrative is as messy and unorganized as a narrative of America itself. Filled with a youthful lust for life, On the Road is a stream of thought as long as all the roads criss-crossing the country – how can that be contained in a 90-minute film?
Perhaps that’s why Coppola brought the creative team behind The Motorcycle Diaries to the project. Another book adaptation, The Motorcycle Diaries brings to life the early days on the South American road of Che Guevara. Here, Salles and Rivera prove they have the chops to produce a road movie.
Either way, On the Road will either be the exception to the rule… or the perfect example of the rule. Traditionally, film adaptations are tremendous letdowns – especially with difficult material like On the Road. How do you think it will be?