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Jack Kerouac and Hollywood: The Good, the Bad, and the Subterranean

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With this week’s release of “On The Road,” the new film based on Jack Kerouac’s generation-defining novel, the work of the celebrated French-Canadian author regarded as one of the founders of the “Beat” generation has found its way into the spotlight once again. Directed by Walter Salles, the film is the latest in a long list of attempts to bring Kerouac’s work to the big screen, with precious few of those attempts resulting in a finished movie – and even fewer that are worth watching.

While it’s still too early to know whether “On The Road” will stand the test of time, there’s no shortage of films you can track down now that run the gamut from must-see material to unwatchable messes, all offering different takes on Kerouac’s work – and in some cases, offering lessons on how not to bring his words to the screen.

Here are some of the highlights (and one notable low point) from Hollywood’s love/hate relationship with Kerouac and the supporting cast of poets, writers, and larger-than-life characters that filled his books:

“Heart Beat” (1980)

John Byrum wrote and directed this film based on the autobiography of Carolyn Cassady, the former wife of Neal Cassady and a prominent figure in literary circles during the early days of the Beat Generation. “Heart Beat” chronicles the love triangle between herself, Neal, and Kerouac that developed while Kerouac was writing On the Road and how the book’s publication affected the lives of its real-life characters. Sissy Spacek plays Carolyn Cassady, Nick Nolte plays Neal Cassady, and John Heard plays Kerouac. While it isn’t regarded as a critical success, the film is one of the first high-profile movies based on the Beat Generation and has enjoyed a nice mix of lukewarm and occasionally very positive reviews over the years, making it one of the more prominent big-screen portrayals of the writer and his life around the time of On The Road.

“Beat” (2000)

Daniel Martinez was cast as Jack Kerouac in this film that chronicles the time leading up to the very real death of William S. Burroughs’ wife, Joan Vollmer, in a notorious shooting accident. Kiefer Sutherland plays Burroughs, and he’s joined by an impressive supporting cast that includes Courtney Love as Joan, Ron Livingston as Allen Ginsberg, and Norman Reedus as Lucien Carr, another prominent figure in Kerouac’s literary and social circle. While Kerouac’s role in the story is relatively minor, “Beat” has earned praise for the cast’s portrayal of the real-life figures at the heart of the story – especially Livingston’s take on Howl poet Allen Ginsberg.

“The Subterraneans” (1960)

Notable for being one of the worst, most reviled, and financially unsuccessful films based on Kerouac’s work, this terrible movie cast George Peppard as Leo Percepied, Kerouac’s alter ego in a 1958 story he penned about his brief romance of an African-American girl while frequenting the jazz clubs of San Francisco in the 1950s. The movie is particularly reviled for the studio’s decision to change Leo’s love interest from an African-American girl to a young French girl (played by Leslie Caron) – a decision made to make the movie more palatable to mainstream audiences of the time. A notorious low point in the author’s Hollywood history, “The Subterraneans” is worth watching just to see how amazingly wrong an adaptation can go.

“Howl” (2010)

Currently the best-reviewed film featuring a fictional portrayal of Kerouac, this recent movie based on the creation of Allen Ginsberg’s famous poem and the obscenity trial it sparked cast James Franco as Ginsberg, Todd Rotondi as Kerouac, and Jon Prescott as Neal Cassady, as well as a long list of other actors playing notable literary figures of the time. Like “Beat,” this film features Kerouac as more of a supporting character than a primary figure in the narrative, though it’s well worth watching for some impressive performances and surprising cameos.

“The Last Time I Committed Suicide” (1997)

Thomas Jane plays Neal Cassady in this film based on a letter Neal wrote to Kerouac in the early ’50s. It’s a surprisingly good, compelling film with a fantastic cast that includes Keanu Reeves as Harry, a character that’s clearly a stand-in for Kerouac, and Adrien Brody as Ben, a character based on Allen Ginsberg. The film also features Claire Forlani and Gretchen Mol in supporting roles. “The Last Time I Committed Suicide” is one of those films that will fascinate fans of Kerouac’s work while also entertaining anyone who isn’t familiar with the author’s works.

While there are quite a few other films out there based on Kerouac’s life, his work, and the wild cast of characters that surrounded him, these are just a few of the highlights (and one notable low point) that are worth viewing for one reason or another. Whether you consider them “On The Road” prep or “what to watch next” material, they’re a good place to start for anyone interested in learning more about Kerouac’s life and work via the lens of Hollywood.

“On The Road” hits theaters December 21 and stars Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady) and Sam Riley as Sal Paradise (Jack Kerouac).

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Holiday Extra Special

Make The Holidays ’80s Again

Enjoy the holiday cheer Wednesday December 21 at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Whatever happened to the kind of crazy-yet-cozy holiday specials that blanketed the early winter airwaves of the 1980s? Unceremoniously killed by infectious ’90s jadedness? Slow fade out at the hands of early-onset millennial ennui? Whatever the reason, nixing the tradition was a huge mistake.

A huge mistake that we’re about to fix.

Announcing IFC’s Joe’s Pub Presents: A Holiday Special, starring Tony Hale. It’s a celeb-studded extravaganza in the glorious tradition of yesteryear featuring Bridget Everett, Jo Firestone, Nick Thune, Jen Kirkman, house band The Dap-Kings, and many more. And it’s at Joe’s Pub, everyone’s favorite home away from home in the Big Apple.

The yuletide cheer explodes Wednesday December 21 at 10P. But if you were born after 1989 and have no idea what void this spectacular special is going to fill, sample from this vintage selection of holiday hits:

Andy Williams and The NBC Kids Search For Santa

The quintessential holiday special. Get snuggly and turn off your brain. You won’t need it.

A Muppet Family Christmas

The Fraggles. The Muppets. The Sesame Street gang. Fate. The Jim Henson multiverse merges in this warm and fuzzy Holiday gathering.

Julie Andrews: The Sound Of Christmas

To this day a foolproof antidote to holiday cynicism. It’s cheesy, but a good cheese. In this case an Alpine Gruyère.

Star Wars Holiday Special

Okay, busted. This one was released in 1978. Still totally ’80s though. And yes that’s Bea Arthur.

Pee Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special

Pass the eggnog, and make sure it’s loaded. This special is everything you’d expect it to be and much, much more.

Joe’s Pub Presents: A Holiday Special premieres Wednesday December 21 at 10P on IFC.

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It Ain't Over Yet

A Guide to Coping with the End of Comedy Bang! Bang!

Watch the final episodes tonight at 11 and 11:30P on IFC.

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After five seasons and 110 halved-hour episodes, Scott Aukerman’s hipster comedy opus, Comedy Bang! Bang!, has come to an end. Fridays at 11 and 11:30P will never be the same. We know it can be hard for fans to adjust after the series finale of their favorite TV show. That’s why we’ve prepared this step-by-step guide to managing your grief.

Step One: Cry it out

It’s just natural. We’re sad too.
Scott crying GIF

Step Two: Read the CB!B! IMDB Trivia Page

The show is over and it feels like you’ve lost a friend. But how well did you really know this friend? Head over to Comedy Bang! Bang!’s IMDB page to find out some things you may not have known…like that it’s “based on a Civil War battle of the same name” or that “Reggie Watts was actually born with the name Theodore Leopold The Third.”

Step Three: Listen to the podcast

One fascinating piece of CB!B! trivia that you might not learn from IMDB is that there’s a podcast that shares the same name as the TV show. It’s even hosted by Scott Aukerman! It’s not exactly like watching the TV show on a Friday night, but that’s only because each episode is released Monday morning. If you close your eyes, the podcast is just like watching the show with your eyes closed!

Step Four: Watch brand new CB!B! clips?!

The best way to cope with the end of Comedy Bang! Bang! is to completely ignore that it’s over — because it’s not. In an unprecedented move, IFC is opening up the bonus CB!B! content vault. There are four brand new, never-before-seen sketches featuring Scott Aukerman, Kid Cudi, and “Weird Al” Yankovic ready for you to view on the IFC App. There’s also one right here, below this paragraph! Watch all four b-b-bonus clips and feel better.

Binge the entire final season, plus exclusive sketches, right now on the IFC app.

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Everybody Sweats Now

The Four-Day Sweatsgiving Weekend On IFC

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This long holiday weekend is your time to gobble gobble gobble and give heartfelt thanks—thanks for the comfort and forgiveness of sweatpants. Because when it comes right down to it, there’s nothing more wholesome and American than stuffing yourself stupid and spending endless hours in front of the TV in your softest of softests.

So get the sweats, grab the remote and join IFC for four perfect days of entertainment.

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It all starts with a 24-hour T-day marathon of Rocky Horror Picture Show, then continues Friday with an all-day binge of Stan Against Evil.

By Saturday, the couch will have molded to your shape. Which is good, because you’ll be nestled in for back-to-back Die Hard and Lethal Weapon.

Finally, come Sunday it’s time to put the sweat back in your sweatpants with The Shining, The Exorcist, The Chronicles of Riddick, Terminator 2, and Blade: Trinity. They totally count as cardio.

As if you need more convincing, here’s Martha Wash and the IFC&C Music Factory to hammer the point home.

The Sweatsgiving Weekend starts Thursday on IFC

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