Tag Archives: film

“The War Is Over! John Lennon Lost!”: Did the FBI Kill John Lennon?

1 Aug

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Yesterday I wrote about Allen Ginsberg’s connection to Timothy Leary and the CIA. I’ve already told you before that the Beat Generation influenced The Beatles, and today I’m here to tell you John Lennon had a connection to Timothy Leary and the FBI. Welcome back to Conspiracy Theory week!

Years ago, I went to the Angelica to see the film Jesus Camp, which I reviewed for Burnside Writers Collective. During the screening, a woman burst into the theatre and shouted:

The war is over! John Lennon lost!

Only in New York, right?! I think she was in the wrong room. The year was 2006, and another film was out at that time: The U.S. vs. John Lennon. That film pointed to evidence that the US government had tried to silence John Lennon, who had become increasingly counter-cultural as the years wore on and influential in his anti-war protests. From what I’ve read, it is alleged that, under Nixon, the government tried to deport Lennon, who was living in New York when he was fatally shot.

Most know the story of John Lennon’s murder outside the Dakota on December 8, 1980, as the lone act of Mark David Chapman, who plead guilty. He was examined at Bellevue Hospital—where Beat icons William S. Burroughs, Joan Vollmer Adams Burroughs, Carl Solomon, and Allen Ginsberg spent time (read my book Burning Furiously Beautiful for more details!)—and believed to be psychotic. He had been carrying J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye at the time of his murder and said it “holds many answers.” However, Chapman eventually decided he wanted the insanity defense dropped, and he plead guilty. He’s been in jail ever since, denied parole at every appeal. In August of this year he’ll be up for his next parole hearing.

Conspiracy theorists hold that the US government killed John Lennon.

  • Steve Lightfoot wrote a booklet that suggests that Nixon, Reagan, and even Steven King are tied to John Lennon’s murder
  • Mae Brussell writes in “Conspiracy Planet” about a conspiracy chain revolving around Lennon’s murder

Plug in a search online for “John Lennon murder conspiracy,” and you’ll find dozens of websites devoted to allegations that the US government and FBI were involved in The Beatles’ death.

Of course some conspiracy theorists also say Paul is dead.

Surrealist Film at Pravda: Thoughts on Breton’s Automatism and Kerouac’s Spontaneous Prose

17 Feb

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Pravda ran a Surrealist and Experimental film night series over the summer, and although I’m terribly late in posting about it, my friend and I had such a great time that I figured better late than never. One night of Surrealism can lead to many more!

Pravda is a subterranean Russian speakeasy in Soho, near two of my favorite bookstores, Housing Works and McNally Jackson. They serve delicious food and have a fantastic vodka selection. I cannot recommend the horseradish-infused vodka enough.

Occasionally they host special events, such as Salon Dinners, Roaring Twenties Parties, and Surrealist & Experimental Cinema of the 1920s & 30s. The film nights are such a treat! The films are actually silent, and they hire a musician to play live piano music!! I was enthralled. Inspired. They showed films by Man Ray, whom I’d studied at Scripps College, as well as other artists.

A little background::: Surrealism developed out of Dada during World War I in Paris. André Breton is the key player here. Using Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic methods on soldiers, the French poet worked at a neurological hospital. In 1924, he wrote the Surrealist Manifesto, a work that defined the cultural revolution:

“Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express — verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner — the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.”

While Surrealism affected all the arts, I want to pause right here to focus on the connections between Surrealist literature and the Beat Generation. The idea of Surrealist automatism is key here. Automatism is the practice of writing without self-censorship. The Oxford University Press defines it as:

Term appropriated by the Surrealists from physiology and psychiatry and later applied to techniques of spontaneous writing, drawing and painting.

“Spontaneous writing.” Sound familiar? Jack Kerouac wrote a writing manifesto called “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose.” In it, Kerouac wrote, for example:

Not “selectivity” of expression but following free deviation (association) of mind into limitless blow-on-subject seas of thought….

I haven’t yet done any extensive research into this to see if the connections are accurate, but there is a cultural connection to Kerouac and automatism. On Wikipedia (obviously not a true source to go by, but one that can be a launching pad for actual informed research) I read:

The notion of Automatism is also rooted in the artistic movement of the same name founded by Montreal artist Paul-Emile Borduas in 1942; himself influenced by the Dadaist movement as well as André Breton. He, as well as a dozen other artists from Quebec’s artistic scene, very much under restrictive and authoritarian rule in that period, signed the Global Refusal manifesto, in which the artists called upon North American society (specifically in the culturally unique environment of Quebec), to take notice and act upon the societal evolution projected by these new cultural paradigms opened by the Automatist movement as well as other influences in the 1940s.

Remember that Kerouac’s parents were from Quebec, and he and his family used to travel back and forth to visit relatives. The Automatism of Quebec happened in 1942, when Kerouac was already an adult, having graduated from high school and moved to New York by that time. Still, it’s possible that the seeds were planted in both Kerouac and Borduas around the same time and place, in at least the small point that they spoke French, the language of Surrealism.

In “Earwitness Testimony: Sound and Sense, Word and Void in Jack Kerouac’s Old Angel Midnight” for Empty Mirror, Gregory Stephenson makes the claim:

Indeed, in method and intention, Old Angel Midnight could be said to be closer to the sound poetry of the dadaists, Hugo Ball and Kurt Schwitters, and to the automatic writing practiced by the surrealists, André Breton and Philippe Soupault, in their book-length exercise in textual autogenesis, The Magnetic Fields, originally published in 1919.

There’s much more to be said about Surrealism, Automatic Writing, Spontaneous Prose, and Surrealist Film, and the evening at Pravda whet my appetite.

 

Clip: Vox Poetica Published My Poem “In a Diner in America Circa 1956”

20 Nov

Vox-Transparent

I’m thrilled to be published in vox poetica. The lit mag was founded in 2009 by Annmarie Lockhart, a resident of Bergen County, New Jersey — where I’m from!

The poem featured, “In a Diner in America Circa 1956,” came to me one day as I was walking on Park Avenue during my lunch break. I was thinking about Jack Kerouac stopping in a roadside cafe for a little nourishment as he traveled across the country, and the awkwardness and opportunities that abound when one travels on one’s own.

It’s a pastiche of Jack Kerouac’s interview on The Steve Allen Show, his narration of what may be the only true Beat film Pull My Daisy, and an amalgamation of information from his novels and letters as well as biographies.

You can read it here.

Big Sur Comes Out Today

1 Nov

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Kalo mina! The film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur comes out today. Will you be watching it?

It stars Jean-Marc Barr as a Jack Kerouac who’s overcome by the notoriety that descends on him after the publication of On the Road. Barr told Salon:

“I’ve been living Kerouac all my life. So there was nothing to play.”

Though that statement seems over-reaching, from the trailers the half-French Catholic does seem to get to a closer emulation of Kerouac than other recent actors.

Of course, he’s also playing Kerouac at a much different point in his life than he’s been portrayed in the other recent films. In “What Hollywood Gets Wrong About Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation” for The Atlantic, Jordan Larson wrote:

But the current Beat revival arguably goes too far with its re-imagination of the Beat writers’ livelihoods as simple adolescent goofing around—its most prominent writers were, after all, well into their grown-up years when they wrote many of their most notable writings.

Kerouac is definitely an adult in Big Sur. A rather depressed one at that. And it brings up the point I discussed earlier this week when mentioning Karen Yuan’s argument in the article “Notebook: Hollywood shouldn’t glamorize the Beat Generation’s self-destruction” for The Michigan Daily, and that is, whether portraying them as adolescents or as adults, Hollywood and the Beat Generation is being criticized.

What’s interesting about Big Sur, though, is that the executive producer is Jack Kerouac’s nephew Jim Sampas. He was also the producer of One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur. Sampas also produced Dr. Sax and the Great World Snake and Joy Kicks Darkness, among other projects.

In 2009, Sampas told IFC:

“‘Big Sur’ is Jack’s most personal and confessional novel. I am blown away by his courage in writing about his own spiral downward with such honesty and depth. My goal is that this film we’ve created influences a younger generation to embrace this work. And if people who see this film are inspired by Jack no holds barred honesty, wouldn’t that be incredible?”

I had the pleasure of meeting Jim Sampas, a fellow Greek American, at this year’s Lowell Celebrates Kerouac, when Billy Koumantzelis (check out his CD on his time with Kerouac) introduced me to him. It will definitely be interesting to view this film in light of the others.

I’ve read mixed reviews, and I’d love to hear what others think of the film. Please post comments if you see it!

* * *

Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

New Trailer for “Kill Your Darlings” Released

23 Aug

KillYourDarlingsPoster photo via imdb

The new Kill Your Darlings trailer released! You can check it out here.

Kill Your Darlings is the film about the 1944 murder in which Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs were named as accessories.

Just like in the film adaptation of On the Road where the Marylou/LuAnne character got a lot of publicity because she was played by Kristen Stewart even though LuAnne wasn’t the focus of the book, the buzz around Kill Your Darlings is Harry Potter‘s Daniel Radcliffe playing Allen Ginsberg even though Ginsberg was not the murderer, not the person murdered, and not named as an accessory.

The film is directed by Greek American John Krokidas and stars Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg, Ben Foster as William Burroughs, Elizabeth Olsen as Edie Parker, Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr, David Cross as Louis Ginsberg, Jack Huston as Jack Kerouac, and Michael C. Hall as David Kammerer.

It premiered at Sundance this year, where it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize, and is set for limited release here in the US on October 18, 2013.

I set up a Kill Your Darlings Pinterest page if you’re interested in seeing photos of the real-life people involved in the murder and of the actors and people involved in the film.

Will you watch Kill Your Darlings when it comes out?

 

On the Road Gets a Girly Makeover

4 Jun

book-coverimage via Cup of Jo

The cover of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road got a girly makeover last month as part of author Maureen Johnson’s challenge Coverflip, which asked people to imagine how the covers of famous books would look if they had been written by people of the opposite gender.

The experiment stems from the growing conversation surrounding how books are gendered. For more on this subject, I’d recommend reading Deboarah Copaken Kogan’s article “My So-Called ‘Post-Feminist’ Life in Arts and Letters” for The Nation, about the title and cover for her memoir Shutterbabe about her years as a war photographer. (See the disconnect? babe. war.)

The feminized cover of On the Road seen above—a fake, done in jest to prove Johnson’s point that covers are gendered—interestingly enough bears a resemblance to the real marketing materials for the recent film adaptation of Kerouac’s novel. Whether it was the film poster or the trailer, Kristen Stewart—who played LuAnne—was front and center. The US edition of the movie tie-in novel went with a collage effect but check out this Italian cover:

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Lest you think the Italians are alone for some reason, it’s the same cover used for the Australian edition and the French edition.

What are we to make of the fact the movie-tie in editions look more like the fake Coverflip experiment than more recent printings of On the Road? Are the marketing teams behind these new editions trying to appeal to young women? Are they assuaging misogynistic critiques by giving a female character more attention—or are they actually embracing misogyny by using an image of a woman as a marketing tool?

For more on this subject, you might like:

Judging On the Road by Its Covers

Vote for Your Favorite Greeks!: GABBY Voting

20 Mar

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You, yes YOU, have the power to select the winners of the 2013 GABBY Awards. What’s that? You’ve never heard of the GABBYs? Where have you been, my friend? The GABBY Awards celebrates Greek America’s best and brightest:

The Gabby Awards were created to celebrate those Greek North Americans who strive to be the very best at what they do. Whether in business, philanthropy, the arts, education or other areas of interest that our awards cover, we celebrate the pursuit excellence as a core Greek ideal and are inspired by people who pursue excellence.

The name “Gabby” comes from the acronym “Greek America’s Best and Brightest Stars” and the Gabby has quickly become the top achievement awards for Greek North Americans. The awards are based on a purely meritocratic system that involves a 100-member Academy that determines the nominees, followed by a popular vote via the internet.

I attended the 2011 GABBY Awards on Ellis Island, which were AMAZING. Here are my recaps.

This year, the star-studded festivities will take place in Hollywood.

And the nominees are….

…Drum roll, please!

Business & Entrepreneurism

  • Sophia Amoruso, Founder and Owner, Nasty Gal (fashion)
  • George Kalogridis, President, Walt Disney Resort
  • Arianna Huffington, Journalist and Founder of the Huffington Post

Politics & Public Service

  • Andromache Karakastanis, Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada
  • Reince R. Priebus, Attorney, Chairman of the Republican National Committee
  • John Sarbanes, Maryland Congressman

Philanthropy

  • John Paul DeJoria, Co-founder of Paul Mitchell Systems, Patron Spirits, and JP Selects
  • Michael Lazaridis, Founder of Blackberry, Philanthropist
  • John Pappajohn, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist

Athletics

  • George Kontos, Professional Baseball Player
  • Christina Loukas, Olympian, Diver
  • Nick Markakis, Professional Baseball Player

Education

  • Nicholas Economides, Professor of Economics
  • C. L. Max Nikias, President, University of Southern California
  • Nicholas Zeppos, Chancellor, Vanderbilt University

Arts & Culture

  • Alexander Payne, Screenwriter and Director
  • George Pelecanos, Novelist, Writer and Producer
  • Greg Yaitanes, Director and Innovator

Performing Arts

  • Chris Diamantopoulos, Actor
  • Tina Fey, Actress
  • Zachary Galifianakis, Actor and Comedian

Science & Medicine

  • Paul Alivisatos, Ph.D., Professor of Chemistry and Materials Science
  • Dr. Peter Diamandis, Founder, Chairman & CEO of the X Prize Foundation
  • Constantine Stratakis, M.D. D.Sc., Medical Investigator

You can officially vote here. Let me know in the comments section, though, who you’re voting for. Also, is there anyone that didn’t make the cut that you think should have been nominated?

Review: Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder

14 Mar

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I caught the documentary Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder (2009) at Anthology Film Archives this past weekend. Lawrence Ferlinghetti is one of my favorite poets, for his use of language and whimsy. I’ve long appreciate his commitment to freedom of speech, and this documentary made me more aware of how he used his position as a poet and bookseller for activist purposes. Quirky fact: he uses the windows of his office at City Lights as a “blog,” writing his political thoughts for all who pass by to see.

Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder is star-studded, including informative interviews and clips with everyone from Amiri Baraka, David Amram, Jack Hirschman, Michael McClure, Anne Waldman, and George Whitman to Giada Diano, Bill Morgan, Dave Eggers, and Lorenzo Ferlinghetti. It impresses upon the viewer just how important Ferlinghetti is by indicating his support of Bob Dylan, his place in American poetry, awards given to him, and the naming of a street after him.

The biographical background information is fascinating, particularly when we hear about Ferlinghetti’s rearing in France, how his mother’s ineptitude at caring for him led to his being raised by the daughter of the founder of Sarah Lawrence College, and his service in World War II (spoiler alert: he saw Nagasaki right after the bomb dropped). There’s even a scene in which Ferlinghetti searches for his roots in Italy, where he was arrested for trespassing when he tried to get a sneak peek at where his father grew up! This of course is all balanced with his founding of City Lights, the Howl trial, and the Human Be-In.

All of it is wonderful, but its broad scope and pacing left the film falling flat in terms of its aesthetics. As a biographer, I understand how director/producer Christopher Felver must have struggled with the editing process. How could he cut anything out when it’s all so important? No one wants to see significant and appealing research fall on the cutting room floor. As a viewer, though, I would have preferred a more limited scope or narrative approach. It would have been a stronger film if Felver, who worked on the documentary for ten years, ruthlessly edited his work to give it a story arc. This film is best suited for those interested in learning more about the free speech movement, poetry in America, the Beat Generation (though Ferlinghetti adamantly declares in one scene “Don’t call me a Beat! I never was a Beat!”), San Francisco, and the 1950s and ‘60s. I’d recommend Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder for high-school English classes as well as for writers in general, as it motivates one to consider poetry as subversive action.

Big Sur Debuts Today at Sundance Film Festival

23 Jan

Big Sur debuts today at Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah:

When I first saw the trailer for Big Sur I felt a sense of relief. While I enjoyed the film adaptation of On the Road, the Sal Paradise character (based on Jack Kerouac and played by Sam Riley) fell flat for me. Jean-Marc Barr plays the Kerouac character in Big Sur and at least from the trailer seems to embody him much better.

The film is directed by Michael Polish and the cinematography is by M. David Mullen, who worked together on Stay Cool and The Astronaut Farmer, and it is gorgeously lush.

The story of Big Sur is in many ways On the Road‘s opposite. On the Road brings to life Kerouac’s early adventures roadtripping across the country. His zeal for life explodes across the page. Big Sur, on the other hand, shows the writer in the later years of his life, after fame and alcohol had taken a toll on his life.

The first time I read Big Sur it depressed me greatly, reading how Kerouac struggled and obsessed over death, but I read it again last fall when I was roadtripping down the California coast and saw how Kerouac really was a master at style. There’s a repetition and rhythm of the book that echoes the cyclical nature of the ocean.

This isn’t the first time Kerouac’s time in Big Sur has been the subject of a film. In 2008 there was One Fast Move Or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur.

Here’s a synopsis of Polish’ Big Sur from the Sundance website:

Big Sur focuses on a moment in Jack Kerouac’s life when, overwhelmed by the success of his opus On the Road and struggling with alcoholism, he retreats to his publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s cabin in the small, coastal California town of Big Sur, which eventually inspires his 1962 novel of the same name. Kerouac’s time begins with quiet moments of solitude and communing with nature. But, struck by loneliness, he hightails it to San Francisco, where he resumes drinking heavily and gets pushed into a relationship with his best friend Neal Cassady’s mistress, Billie.

While writer/director Michael Polish (Twin Falls Idaho) explores a less glamorous moment in Kerouac’s legacy—one of alienation and mental breakdown—Big Sur equally examines the beauty of this time in the writer’s life, witnessed in the romance of friendship and the purity of nature. Jean-Marc Barr embodies Kerouac’s intelligence and masculinity, but also portrays him at his most contemplative and vulnerable. Luscious and breathtaking, Big Surapproaches a religious cinematic experience.

Director: Michael Polish

Screenwriter: Michael Polish

Executive Producers: Mark Roberts, Eddie Vaisman, Jim Sampas

Producers: Ross Jacobson, Orian Williams, Adam Kassen, Michael Polish

Cinematographer: M. David Mullen

Production Designer: Max Biscoe

Sound Designer: Chris Sheldon

Costume Designer: Bic Owen

Principal Cast: Jean-Marc Barr, Kate Bosworth, Josh Lucas, Radha Mitchell, Anthony Edwards, Henry Thomas

 

“On the Road” Review

18 Dec


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On Friday, December 14, I attended a special sneak preview of On the Road at IFC Center in Greenwich Village. It was history in the making. At long last, Jack Kerouac’s seminal road novel had made its way to the silver screen. Kerouac himself wrote a lot about going to the movies, and he wanted his novel turned into a film. In fact, he even wrote to Marlon Brando, asking him to buy it and star in it.

Francis Ford Coppola bought the film rights decades ago. I have a friend who wrote a screenplay that he showed to Coppola, and there have been numerous actors associated with the film adaptation, but the project always seemed to stall. Finally, Walter Salles came on as director and Jose Rivera as screenwriter, and soon after an impressive cast lined up, and the film looked like it would finally take off. And it did! It debuted at Cannes Film Festival in May 2012. Throughout the summer and into the fall, the film showed at theatres across Europe and South America. Those of us in the States read reviews, watched clips, argued about whether the novel could be adapted for film in a successful way, and debated the choices for the cast while we waited for the quintessential American story to come to us. At long last, when it was announced that a sneak preview of On the Road was taking place in the neighborhood Kerouac used to hang out in, people lined up on the Avenue of Americas for a chance to see it. As my good friend Elizabeth and I waited in line, an older man offered us $50 for our movie tickets. Considering we were so excited we were taking photos to commemorate the event, we probably weren’t the best people to try to scalp from. Needless to say, I watched the film, and, for whatever it’s worth, I can now give you my review of On the Road, which opens in New York and LA on December 21 and the rest of the country in January.

Let me start with a caveat: I am perhaps a bit too close to the subject matter to review On the Road objectively. After all, I am writing a book about the true story of On the Road. I have also heard and read reviews by a few other Beat scholars and fans and watched many Youtube clips from the film. I came in with lots of preconceived notions, and I watched the film more as a critic than as your average moviegoer. That said, I did not go into it as a literary snob wanting it to fail. I came into it wanting to see Kerouac’s work done justice.

***

On the Road is wonderfully nuanced. And to me, it’s the nuances in the acting, directing, and screenwriting that make On the Road a worthwhile adaptation of the novel. Everyone involved in the film understood that Kerouac’s novel is not just about some crazy kids driving at high speeds across the country, getting high, and getting laid. They understood that depicting this wild behavior — the film does not censor anything — was necessary not for shock value but because it underscores the complexity of the characters. In particular, the film does justice to the theme of the loss of fathers. Burning Furiously Beautiful, the book I’m coauthoring, delves into the personal life stories of the real-life people the characters are based on, giving further insight into their behavior and lifestyle. Understanding the characters’ back story elucidates their desires and actions, and the film adaptation neither glorifies nor critiques the characters. It gives them space to reveal themselves to the viewer.

Interestingly, the character that fell flat to me was the character of Sal Paradise, based on Jack Kerouac and played by Sam Riley. The actor, screenwriter, and director did a great job showing him to be an observer, which was true to Kerouac’s nature. However, the film itself was not seen through Sal’s eyes. He seemed like just another character. The landscape, the jazz shows, the parties were depicted through a neutral perspective. Not only did this make it difficult to understand Sal’s motivations and character — this is most evident in the scene with Terry (“the Mexican girl”), which isn’t developed enough for us to understand why it’s included — it meant we lost his voice. While critics over the years have focused on the road trip antics, for me, the strength of the novel was its insanely beautiful poetry. The film adaptation was more about the story and less about the literature.

Overall, though, the dialogue for the characters and the acting was phenomenal. Viggo Mortensen needs to star in a biopic on William S. Burroughs. Amy Adams took on the persona of Jane. Kristen Stewart brought a depth to Marylou that Kerouac himself didn’t. Kirsten Dunst showed great emotion in her scenes. Tom Sturridge played Carlo Marx with intensity but also surprising humor; his dialogue was quintessential Ginsberg: dramatic and over the top. Elisabeth Moss’ Galatea was a nice contrast to the other characters, while Danny Morgan’s Ed was a bit too goofy; these two characters are the reason the characters end up at Old Bull Lee and Janes’s place, but if it weren’t for that they could’ve been edited out for the film. Garrett Hedlund was charismatic. He lit up the screen.

My most pressing criticism of the film is that it felt a bit too much like a period piece for my personal preference.  I was impressed that the film was historically accurate, and yet I found myself distracted by those details. For example, when the focus was on the exterior of the Hudson, it made the story feel removed instead of vibrant; yet the shots within the car or from the viewpoint of the passenger were beautiful. Likewise, there were times when the wallpaper in a room jumped out at me more than it probably should have. I’m by no means suggesting the story should have been modernized, but the setting and props should not overpower the story. There were also scenes like the one at the jazz club which felt staged, almost cartoonish. I would’ve liked something a bit more raw, a bit grittier or impressionist.

In contrast, the New Year’s Eve party was sheer brilliance. Here were fast cuts and disorienting angles. Here were sweat and thrashing limbs. Here was jazz you wanted to dance to. Here was the energy that made you want to shout go, go, go! There were also beautiful quiet moments laced throughout the film. Poetic landscape. Honest heart-to-hearts. Subtle glances. Almost any time the characters were on the road, the dialogue, the filmography, and the acting were spot on.

The film adaptation of On the Road may enlighten some people’s perception of Jack Kerouac.