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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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Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…