Awaiting “On The Road”

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.

13 Responses

  1. And how will they handle the
    And how will they handle the transcendent pot scene down in Mexico. Please, no reprise of Fast Times at Ridgemont high.

  2. I sense this movie will
    I sense this movie will intrigue Generation Y (or whatever the latest name pinned upon the new generation) who’ll run out after seeing the movie and buy their paperback of OTR, preferably used, and within a couple of months we’ll see young folks dressed in 1950’s stylings complete with hairdos and lots of cigarette smoking, while they snap their fingers ala “cool cats” and jazz will become the latest craze on MP3. I only hope abstract expressionism will have it’s own renaissance with every In Gallery in Chelsea and beyond… complete with jazz playing in the background, of course. But will any of them actually ever know Jack..?

  3. Mtmynd … I think that
    Mtmynd … I think that already happened, without the movie.

  4. Ive been wondering when this
    Ive been wondering when this would come out. Nice to know, eh.

  5. Levi,
    Here is the soundtrack


    Here is the soundtrack listing. The uncredited songs would be Santaolalla’s originals.

    1. Sweet Sixteen – Greg Kramer
    2. Roman Candles
    3. Yep Roc Heresy – Coati Mundi
    4. Reminiscence
    5. Lovin’ It
    6. The Open Road
    7. Memories / Up to Speed
    8. I’ve Got the World on a String – Ella Fitzgerald
    9. That’s It
    10. Keep it Rollin’
    11. Hit That Jive Jack – Slim Gaillard
    12. God Is Pooh Bear
    13. Death Letter Blues – Son House
    14. I Think of Dean
    15. Jack Kerouac Reads ‘On the Road’ – Jack Kerouac

  6. Great find, TKG — thanks!
    Great find, TKG — thanks! Where did you get this info?

    I think this soundtrack looks very promising. Glad to see the Slim Gaillard, Ella Fitzgerald, Son House, nice …

  7. Personally, I was less
    Personally, I was less bothered than most by Kristen Stewart’s casting in this at first (I mean, an “On the Road” film could get a character like Marylou a little wrong without it ruining the whole thing). But I started to change my tune a bit when I kept seeing more and more references to “Kristen Stewart’s ‘On the Road.’ ” Not only is the film’s marketing making her the main character, it’s practically making her the author.

    Then again, “On the Road” was holy text to me when I was a teenager, just as the “Twilight” books are holy text to so many of the tween girls who will be seeing this for all the wrong reasons when it comes out. If the tangential sparkly-vampire connection convinces just a few thousand of them to pick up Jack’s actual book afterward, then this film will be doing a mitzvah.

    Personally, I’ll just be happy if it isn’t a disaster.

    And interesting note about the score needing to understand jazz. Santaolalla is actually a brilliant film composer — his score to “Amores Perros” in particular is genius — but I can’t recall hearing much jazz in his sound at all. He usually has a sort of folky, Andean sort of style which well suits films about open spaces…but I wonder if it’ll fit this one.

    Completely unrelated PS — The captcha below has one word in English, and one word in Hebrew. Not sure how I’m supposed to type the latter…

  8. …the adaption of on the
    …the adaption of on the road to screen should be easy to portray on screen if the film maker is worth a dime. the major characters are complex and striking, the minor characters are very interesting and a casting director’s dream. the mexican girl, bull lee’s wife, the nebraskians, the hitchhikers. cameo possibilities are enourmous. the mood is already built in and the director has the benefit of historical perspective—we know how it all turned out and influenced the culture. good influences and bad. any decent filmmaker should illuminate the contrasts. these coppalas better not flop. what a layup. play it straight. kerouac’s just a guy who wrote a book and another and another and another. tourtured himself along the way, as all great writers do, and left his best work unwritten, as all great writers do. he just ran out of time and inspiration. this world will beat you. even the beats get beat.

  9. Hi Levi,
    The soundtrack songs

    Hi Levi,

    The soundtrack songs were reported about a month ago. I saw it on a couple different sites eg


  10. I have waited so long for
    I have waited so long for this film! I first read OTR in 1990 at the age of 17, and have always wondered if it could be adapted properly to the screen. Keeping my fingers crossed!

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