Tag Archives: Kristen Stewart

UCLA Prof Blames “Beatniks” for Kristen Stewart’s Poetry

12 Feb

mc

Kristen Stewart’s poetry has been blowing up the internet. I read a bunch of snarky comments about it on facebook last night, and this afternoon on my lunch break I discovered via Poets & Writers that the venerable Poetry Foundation gave it attention on their blog, Harriet.

I wasn’t going to comment on it, but then I read, via The Poetry Foundation, what Brian Kim Stefans had to say about it:

My own initial post went like this: “The second stanza isn’t horrible. Worst part of the poem are those awful adjectives! Stupid Beats.” What I meant by this was that the words “digital” (applied to moonlight), “scrawled” when linked to “neon” (neon is a much overused word by poets who want to sound like Beatniks) and “abrasive” (applied to organ pumps) weren’t working for me….”

What Stefans doesn’t say and what The Poetry Foundation doesn’t say is that Kristen Stewart played the role of Marylou in the film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s Beat novel On the Road. Part of her training for the film included “Beatnik Boot Camp,” where biographers and Neal Cassady’s son, John Allen Cassady, talked to them about the real-life individuals the novel was based on and the time period. It’s important to state this upfront because the very critique hurled against her work is that it sounds too Beatnik. Whether that’s because her poetry does sound too “Beatnik”—we’ll come back to defining that word in a moment—or whether her association with the Beats fueled criticism of her work is up for debate. Maybe, more than anything, though, the criticism surrounding Stewart’s poetry has less to do with the work itself and more to do with her celebrity persona—which, let’s face it, is similar to how the Beats are reviewed. Even before her poem was revealed, the media has loved to lash out at Stewart.

Actress Amber Tamblyn was also in a Beat-related film—One Fast Move Or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur—and has gone on record about being influenced by the Beats. Except Tamblyn blogs for The Poetry Foundations’ Harriet and has published a jazz-inspired poetry chapbook, while Stewart, seven years her junior, revealed her road-trip inspired poem to the women’s glossy Marie Claire. This certainly says something about the difference in the seriousness and literary merit of their work, but it also says something about their celebrity persona and how they are received by the media.

Okay, so now we’re caught up on Stewart. In case Stewart, or you, didn’t know, Stefans makes his authority known at the outset of his open letter:

I’m a poet and professor at UCLA, and thought you might be interested in what some of my poet friends (most of whom also teach and are otherwise very accomplished) and I have been writing on Facebook about your recent poem published in Marie Claire.

I take it Professor Stefans is not a fan of the Beat poetry. That’s fine; to each their own. Stefans is actually quite an accomplished poet, and I particularly respect his postmodern innovations in digital poetry as he bridges the gap between new media and literature. From his UCLA faculty page:

My interests in electronic writing stem directly out of my work as a poet, though it has branched off into any number of art genres that have fallen under the persuasion of digital technology, such as photography, film/video and book publishing. Research interest include creating a “bridge” between the concepts and traditions of various 20th-century avant-gardes — Language writing, the Oulipo, concrete poetry, conceptual art, Situationism, metafiction, etc. — and the various genres of digital literature, including animated poems, interactive texts, algorithmically-generated and manipulated texts, “nomadic” writing, hacktivism and experimental blogs. Presently working on a series of wall projections called “Scriptors” which will appear as gallery and environmental installations in the coming years.

His research and work in electronic literature suggests his open-mindedness toward new and experimental ideas that may not yet be culturally accepted. I would think then that he’d find Stewart’s use of the word “digital” related to his own interests, but perhaps it wasn’t “working” for the Brown graduate who got his MFA in Electronic Literature because it was too obvious of a connection, the word “digital” sounding contrived or outmoded in today’s ever-changing technical world. I wouldn’t disagree with that assessment. His forward-searching eye may also be why he lays into her for relying on passé Beatnik clichés and the word “Whilst.” Stefans’ critique of Stewart’s poem is fair and balanced. There is validity to his point about “overused words” in poetry and even Beatnik buzz words.

My contention is with Stefans’ comment “Stupid Beats” and the lumping of Beat literature with “people who want to sound like Beatniks.” Yes, I get that this is a flippant response to pop culture that shouldn’t be taken too seriously, however the cultural knowledge of so-called Beatniks is wrought with so much misconception that it makes me uncomfortable to see a humanities professor at a well-known college perpetuate the stereotype.

Here’s a little Beat 101 refresher course:

  • Jack Kerouac coined the term “Beat Generation” during a conversation with fellow novelist John Clellon Holmes, in which they were riffing on the Lost Generation and their own generation.
  • Holmes went on to write “This Is The Beat Generation” for The New York Times Magazine in 1952.
  • Six years later, journalist Herb Caen coined the term “beatnik” in an article for The San Francisco Chronicle. An amalgamation of the word “beat” and “Sputnik,” the word, as conceived during the Cold War, was derogatory.
  • In fact, “The Examiner had a headline the next day about a beatnik murder,” reported the SF Gate. Note that this had nothing to do with David Kammerer or any of the writers associated with the literature of the Beat Generation.
  • In the column in which Caen coined the term “beatnik,” he was eye rolling at how Look magazine was doing yet another photo spread on the San Francisco Beat Generation scene, saying “250 bearded cats and kits were on hand.” So right there we have it that he wasn’t commenting specifically on Kerouac, Holmes, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and the specific poets or poetry associated with the Beat Generation. He was talking about the scene, man.

Let me put this into more current context. Caen used the word “beatniks” the same way people today use the term “hipster.” Think of the way people in the 2000s equated the Williamsburg hipster with the eccentric trust-fund kid wearing aviator sunglasses and skinny jeans and making really bad “art.” That’s the equivalent of a “beatnik.” They’re both pop-culture fads that aren’t wholly indicative of the art, literature, and music that loosely inspired these “scenes.”

Consequently, saying Kristen Stewart was writing in the vein of bad beatnik poetry could be a worthwhile critique and even a very interesting one if the critic were to delve into more specific examples like the use of the word “neon” (HTML Giant questions if “neon” is solely beatnik; I apparently already have a tag for “neon” because I used it for light sculptor Stephen Antonakos … was he a beatnik??), discuss the appropriation and disfiguration of Beat ideas and style (Stefans mentions a colleague who posted a response to Stewart’s poem that suggests an evolution of Beat literature: “If it’s ‘beat’, it’s more Bolinas or young Bernadette than hortatory elder beat.” [hyperlinks mine]), and analyze the cultural phenomenon of beatniks.

Saying “Stupid Beats,” though, is akin to saying “Idiot Pre-Raphaelites,” “Dimwitted Transcendentalists,” or “Insipid Oulipo.” It’s negating an entire body of literature that has resounding cultural importance.

You can read Stewart’s poem “My Heart Is A Wiffle Ball/Freedom Pole” on IndieWire’s blog, The Playlist.

Advertisements

Kristen Stewart Hits the Road

19 Jun

Kristen-Stewart-On-the-Road

Kristen Stewart, who played Marylou in the film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, is reportedly on a summer road trip in the South. According to several sources, she’s been hanging out at bars and shooting pool in Amarillo, Texas, and Memphis, Tennessee, and is on her way to New Orleans, Louisiana. Among the hotspots stops on her visits: Coyote Ugly Saloon.

Prior to filming On the Road, Stewart had taken a four-week Beatnik Book Camp and taken a road trip. According to Hollywood Life, at a 2012 screening at SVA, she told reporters she avoided the “grimiest” aspects of road tripping.

In March of this year, she and then-boyfriend Robert Pattinson were planning a road trip in Europe for this summer. They were talking about traveling around Italy, Germany, and France in a van. So will they or won’t they? The rumor mill can’t decide.

Here’s my review of the film adaptation of On the Road.

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:

cover2

 

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

“On the Road” Review

18 Dec


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

14 Road Trip Movies for Every Personality

17 Aug

When I was an arts & entertainment editor for an indie paper in LA county, I used to work a lot with the big Hollywood studios to promote their films.  At the time, the American Pie franchise was all the rage, and the PR execs in Hollywood contacted me about coordinating a free screening for my readers of the similarly raunchy teen comedy Road Trip.  Not exactly the highest form of entertainment, but it just went to prove that there’s a road trip movie for everyone.

As I’ve been working with Paul Maher Jr. on Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, I’ve been thinking about the upcoming film of On the Road and wondering who it will appeal to.  Will it be the die-hard Beat fans that pilgrimage out to Lowell Celebrates Kerouac?  Will it be a new crop of hipsters in the making?  Will it be a bunch of fanged teenyboppers brought in by Twilight’sKristen Stewart, who’s playing LuAnne?  Will it be the social justice league brought in by Walter Salles, of The Motorcycle Diaries?

For the wine lover: Sideways

For the BFFs (emphasis on the last F): Thelma & Louise

For the quirky, dysfunctional family: Little Miss Sunshine

For remembering your own family road trips gone awry: National Lampoon’s Vacation

For brothers: The Darjeeling Limited

For the beer-lovin’, truck-drivin’, betting type: Smokey and the Bandit

For the hippie: Easy Rider

rc=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/UjlxqANj68U&#8221; frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

For the revolutionary: The Motorcycle Diaries

For the reader who shuns conventional life and his family: Into the Wild

For the scamming father-daughter team: Paper Moon

For fashionable gangsters in love: Bonnie and Clyde

For bored, hormonal teens whose girlfriends are on vacation: Y Tu Mama Tambien

For quirky con artists and an heiress who like their trips European: The Brothers Bloom

For the spoiled heiress and the desperate journalist: It Happened One Night

There are so many other road trip movies.  Which are your favorites?

From the Lost Generation to the Beat Generation: Hollywood’s Obsession

12 Jul

 

 

With Hemingway and Gellhorn currently on HBO and a remake of The Great Gatsby heading to theatres this Christmas, The Observer’s Daniel D’Addario ponders if we’re experiencing a “Lost Generation Boom.”

The Lost Generation refers to the writers during the World War I era, many of whom became expatriates.  The Lost Generation writers include F. Scott Fitzgerald, T. S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and John Dos Passos, among others.  Hemingway popularized the term in A Moveable Feast, in which he quoted Stein as telling him a story about a man who said, “That’s what you all are … all of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation.”

D’Addario also references last summer’s Midnight in Paris, but in some regard, we’ve been experiencing the “boom” for quite some time now … at least in the cocktail scene.  A few years ago, speakeasy-type bars became all the rage here in New York.  Dimly lit lounges served up spiked punches in tea cups.  There are also Jazz Age parties on Governor’s Island, where everyone gets all dolled up in fantastic flapper dresses and Sacque suits.  And the Oak Room—which in the ‘20s was Algonquin’s Pergola Room—just reopened.

However, Hollywood isn’t only obsessed with the Lost Generation.  The Beat Generation, which wasn’t popular for a long time, is beginning to see a revival.  On the Road, based on Beat writer Jack Kerouac’s novel, just premiered at Cannes Film Festival in May and will be released Stateside sometime later this year.  Next year, Kill Your Darlings, about a murder involving Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and others associated with the Beat Generation, will be released.  In 2010, Howl, based on Allen Ginsberg’s poem and the trial that followed its publication, came out.  These aren’t small movies by any means.  Howl starred it-boy James Franco, Kill Your Darlings will star Daniel Radcliffe, and much has been made of On the Road starring Kristen Stewart.

Perhaps we’re trying to figure out our own generation by looking at those in the past.

On the Road Trailer

29 Mar

 

In case for some reason you haven’t seen the trailer for Walter Salles’ On the Road, screenplay by Jose Rivera, here it is.  It will star Sam Riley as Sal Paradise, Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty, Kristen Stewart as Marylou, Kirsten Dunst as Camille, Tom Sturridge as Carlo Marx, Viggo Mortensen as Old Bull Lee, Amy Adams as Jane, Alice Braga as Terry, and Danny Morgan as Ed Dunkel.

Cast your opinions in the comments section….

From a purely cinematic standpoint, the landscape looks beautiful.  I’ve been following the production of the film for a while and paying particular attention to filming locations.  If you think about it, The United States is a character in the book and in the film so it deserves attention, and I think Walter Salles, who directed The Motorcycle Diaries, can accomplish that.

The book I’m coauthoring with Paul Maher Jr., Burning Furiously Beautiful, details the places Jack Kerouac visited and was inspired by when writing On the Road.  If you check out our Pinterest board, you can see just how incredible the landscape and history of the places Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty visit are.