On The Road

Back-slapping, homoerotic, sycophantic, man-love, bromance sometimes on the road but mostly in little rooms in shaky close-ups.

I was bored. Like the book, the story is all over the place. Literally, of course. But I think this movie proves that some novels are not going to translate well. The whole thing seemed like a representation of the novel. A wax figure. There was no story. I felt no sense of where this was going, no sense of a beginning, middle or end, I had no investment in the next moment, I didn’t give a fuck about any of the characters, no nothing. The book is like that too, and that’s probably why I’ve had to put the book down and pick it up months later. It’s a sprawling ramble.

The film is too literal. Especially the characters.

There’s a sycophantic hero worship of Dean Moriarty, both in the the novel and in this film. It’s fine in the novel – there’s no other way to represent him but with description. I mean, the quote is: “The only people for me are the mad ones…” To do the same in a film is to set up for a fall. It’s like fictional rock stars depicted in film. They never ring true – only generalised stereotypes. Who can fill this man’s shoes? I’ve never seen Garrett Hedlund before, but something bothered me. I could not help but feel that here is a pretty Hollywood actor from the Midwest doing his best impersonation of the description of Moriarty, to be tougher and cooler than he actually is. It reminded me of Val Kilmer in Tombstone with a touch of Christian Slater. His deep voice seemed like an affectation. I may be wrong there. But the permanently confident smile, the backslapping, the twinkling eyes all seemed to be external representations of the character. We have Dean/Neal on the surface, but no gravitas. Oh, for a young Jack Nicholson.

And that begs the question – where are the Steve McQueens, the Jack Nicholsons, Dennis Hoppers of today? Who can fill this man Cassady’s shoes? He needs to be inhabited from the inside, from his essence. I was amazed to discover this:

Nolte is one of the most underrated actors in cinema. I mentioned Nicholson before. Now, here’s something interesting – Ken Kesey met Cassady around 1962 when Kesey was writing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Did Kesey base Randle Patrick McMurphy on Neal Cassady? Apparently so.

Dean Moriarty and R.P. McMurphy are the same person. Ha!

I wanted to like this film, but suspected I wouldn’t. It’s a shame, because who’s going to have a crack at it now? As I mentioned before, this film was too literal. I’d like to see a movie inspired by On the Road.

It’s called On the Road. There’s cinematic gold just in the title! I want to see open spaces! I want to see the stars at night, I want to sit on freight trains at dawn across the prairie, meander through Momument Valley, I want to be free, in the open, wind in my hair. This was captured in the first five minutes when Sal Paradise hops the back of a pick-up truck. The glow of a cigarette cherry in the breeze at dusk. Lovely. Then never again for the rest of the movie. Those are not the boring bits! Put them in! That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? In a film of On the Road, I’m hoping to feel the cinematic experience of Days of Heaven, Y Tu Mama Tambien, even The Brown Bunny. I want Easy Rider, goddamnit! Isn’t the jazz and the language and the stream of consciousness that Kerouac pumped into his book the soundtrack and spirit of being free physically? I could have had two hours of shots of cars on the road over staggering landscapes to all kinds of music. Give me Koyaanisqatsi on the highway. Give me something to meditate on. Don’t give me this literal representation of a seminal novel. Don’t put page on screen! It don’t work.

Milos Forman didn’t with Kesey, and look what happened there – they created a fucking masterpiece.

5 thoughts on “On The Road

  1. Trying to make a great film from this book is indeed a tall order. As for great road movies, you forgot Two-Lane Blacktop.

    That Nolte clip is fantastic. Thanks for sharing.

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