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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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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”


Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”


But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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Draught Pick

Sam Adams “Keeps It Brockmire”

All New Brockmire airs Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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From baseball to beer, Jim Brockmire calls ’em like he sees ’em.

via GIPHY

It’s no wonder at all, then, that Sam Adams would reach out to Brockmire to be their shockingly-honest (and inevitably short-term) new spokesperson. Unscripted and unrestrained, he’ll talk straight about Sam—and we’ll take his word. Check out this new testimonial for proof:

See more Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC, presented by Samuel Adams. Good f***** beer.

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