Yes, my friends, the longest wait in film history is about to end, though you’ll only get to see the movie if you’re on the French Riviera. The Walter Salles/Jose Rivera/Francis Ford Coppola interpretation of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road will premiere at the Cannes Film Festival tomorrow, Wednesday, May 23, at 7:30 pm francois temps.
Kerouac obsessives like me still don’t know what to expect from this film, though trailers and still shots have trickled out. Will I love the film? Will I hate it? Indications are highly ambivalent, nearly straight down the 50-50 mark. On the negative side, I’m worried that Kristen Stewart’s star power will magnetize the plot, turning the famous story about two men and a car into a story about two men and a woman. And, let’s face it, we already have Jules and Jim (not to mention Willie and Phil).
On the positive side, Kristen Stewart appears to be a better-than-average actress, and I’m even more worried about the two male leads. Garrett “Dean Moriarty” Hedlund’s performance might turn out to be over-baked — sure, the character of Dean should pop off the screen, but he shouldn’t appear to be trying too hard to do so. Sam “Sal Paradise” Riley, meanwhile, appears to be playing the story’s narrator as an earnest nerd. The filmmakers seem to be banking on the hope that a romantic plot and lots of fresh-faced sex appeal will propel the film to blockbuster status. This doesn’t match my idea of what an On The Road film should be at all. I want the complexity, the immersion, the ambiguity, the moments of deep philosophical dreariness alternated with honest epiphany.
More specifically, after much reflection I have come to the conclusion that the film’s success as an interpretation of a literary masterpiece (which is entirely different, just to state the obvious, from it’s success as a blockbuster hit, which is what the film’s producers seem to be aiming at) will depend on two things. Will it capture the vast strange beauty of mid 20th-century North America, as Kerouac the prose artist so skillfully did?
Most importantly of all, will the film have good music? Jack Kerouac’s On The Road is a book about jazz. It features written cameos of George Shearing and Slim Gaillard, along with countless anonymous nightclub/roadhouse musical tableaus that ought to explode onto the screen. Walter Salles’s film soundtrack features original music by an Argentinian film composer named Gustavo Santaolalla, who apparently also did the music for Brokeback Mountain (I never saw it) and Walter Salles’s own Motorcycle Diaries.
So here’s the big question I’m wondering about: does Gustavo Santaolalla understand jazz? I sure hope he does. If Gustavo Santaolalla understands jazz, I think this movie has a chance. If he doesn’t, it might not.
I’m not sure when the first notices from the Cannes Film Festival will appear, but I hope to collect at least some impressions from the lucky attendees over on the Riviera, and will plan to run a follow-up post on Thursday with a few links.