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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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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.