Saturday, August 11, 2012

On the Road

Sur la route / Matkalla / På väg. FR/BR [according to the on-screen credits and the pressbook] and also GB/US [other sources] © 2012 MK2 Productions / Film 4 [tbc] [tbc]. PC: A Jerry Leider Company production - In association with Vanguard Films, Film 4 - In co-production with France 2 Cinéma - With the participation of France Télévisions, Canal+ and Ciné+. A French-Brazilian co-production MK2 in co-production with Videofilmes. EX: Francis Ford Coppola, Patrick Batteux, Jerry Leider. P: Charles Gillibert, Nahthanaël Karmitz, Rebecca Yeldham. D: Walter Salles. SC: Jose Rivera - based on the novel (1957) by Jack Kerouac, translated into Finnish by Markku Lahtela / Kirjayhtymä (1964). DP: Eric Gautier - camera: Aaton Penelope - shot on 35 mm Kodak - digital intermediate: Digimage Cinema - 2,35:1. PD: Carlos Conti. AD: Martin Gendron, Hania Robledo. Set dec: Francine Danis, Gabriela Matus, Maria Nay. Cost: Danny Glicker. Makeup: Marisa Amenta. Hair: Jean-Jacques Puchu. SFX: Ryal Cosgrove. M: Gustavo Santaolalla, played by Charlie Haden and Brian Blade. M selections from: Billie Holiday ("Don't Explain", "A Sailboat In The Moonlight"), Coleman Hawkins ("Disorder At The Border"), Johnny Taylor & His Mellow 5 ("Rocky Mountain Blues"), Gene Ammons & Sonny Stitt ("The One Before This"), Charlie Parker ("Scrapple From The Apple", "Tiger Rag", "Koko"), Slim Gaillard ("You Goofed", "Ya Ha Ha", "Dynamite", "Hit That Jive Jack"), Tennessee Ernie Ford ("Anticipation Blues"), Ella Fitzgerald ("I've Got The World On A String"), Babs Gonzales ("Lop Pow"), Jack Teagarden ("Beale Street Blues"), Bing Crosby ("I Used to Love You"), Dizzy Gillespie ("Salt Peanuts"), Bukka White ("Aberdeen Mississippi Blues"), Son House ("Delta Blues", "The Death Letter"), John Lee Hooker ("Wayne County Ramblin' Blues"), Dinah Washington ("Mean And Evil Blues"), The Dining Sisters ("Buttons And Bows"), Daniel Santos ("Dos gardenias"), The Mambo All Stars Orchestra ("Conciergo para bongo"), Pérez Prado ("Norma de la Guadalajara"). The c&w peformance: "Hard To Love What You Kill", by and perf. by Jake La Botz. S: Martín Hernández. ED: François Gédigier. Casting: Richard Hicks, Andrea Kenyon, David Rubin, Randi Wells. C: Sam Riley (Sal Paradise), Garrett Hedlund (Dean Moriarty), Kristen Stewart (Marylou), Kirsten Dunst (Camille), Viggo Mortensen (Old Bull Lee), Amy Adams (Jane), Tom Sturridge (Carlo Marx), Steve Buscemi, Elisabeth Moss (Galatea Dunkel), Alice Braga (Terry), Danny Morgan (Ed Dunkel), Terrence Howard (Walter), Mariette-Ginette Guay (Gavrielle Levesque, Sal's aunt). - Authentic recording: Jack Kerouac reads On the Road, ca 1957. - Many locations: Amite, Morgan City, New Orleans (Louisiana), Arizona, Locke, San Francisco (California), Montréal, Gatineau (standing in for Denver), Calgary, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, etc., etc. 137 min. Released by Future Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Janne Staffans. 2K DCP viewed at Tennispalatsi 11, Helsinki, 11 August 2012.

On the Road is un roman à clef. Sal Paradise = Jack Kerouac, Dean Moriarty = Neal Cassady, Carlo Marx = Allen Ginsberg, Old Bull Lee = William S. Burroughs.

An ambitious movie worth seeing, based on the key novel of the Beat Generation. Jack Kerouac wrote his great contemporary novel based on certain traditions including Villon, Rimbaud, Céline, and Genet, and as we see on screen, Proust and Woolf. On the Road is not a formally experimental novel like the work of Ginsberg and Burroughs, but there was a new sensibility, contemporary to modern jazz, be bop. In the concept of the Beat Generation there was also an affinity with the blues, with its existential anguish. And also to abstract expressionism and action painting. The cultural impact of the Beat Generation was global and tremendous, not only in literature and the theatre, but also in music and the visual art. In cinema, there is something of the Beat Generation in the figures of the young Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, and James Dean. Brando was Kerouac's suggestion to play Dean Moriarty.

On the Road is still an exciting novel to read. It has a sense of urgency, a power of the spirit, a passion for words, a thrilling vitality. In the cinema, the most important movie relevant to On the Road is Easy Rider, a kind of a sequel for On the Road. Easy Rider has the same sense of engrossing movement but also an even more devastating sense of a dead end. These are modern hobo stories, tales of wasted lives of men and their grossly neglected women, a quest of a liberty that is a mirage. But powerful words and images are born during that quest.

On the Road was a milestone of counterculture, created during an age of conformism and repression. After the liberation of the 1960s, the images of theft, fraud, and neglected families no longer seem rebellious, fraud having become a central feature of the establishment in the contemporary financial scene.

Film adaptations for On the Road have been in preparation since day one when the novel was published, Kerouac himself active in contacting Brando. For decades, Francis Ford Coppola has tried to launch a film adaptation. Walter Salles has now directed with piety a movie that is authentic and an hommage to the novel. There are affinities in the imagery to works such as D.A. Pennebaker's Daybreak Express and Gus Van Sant's Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho.

Kerouac's book exploits the novel form to the full in creating a rich portrait of the United States in the 1940s and the 1950s, during the long tours from coast to coast, then around the country, and finally to Mexico. Brief vignettes and passages evoke the history of the country, including Native Americans, and experiences of the war and the depression. It is a long voyage, and even fleeting encounters are individual and memorable.

The movie is good, but the irresistible force of the novel is missing. Also the epic sense of a vibrant country conveyed by the many encounters on the road is weaker in the movie. The movie is slightly too academic, slightly too much an illustrated classic, although of good quality. I can understand the approaches imagined by Kerouac (subjective camera in the car windshield) or Coppola (gritty 16 mm).

The actors and their performances are great but slightly too much like hommages, the dialogue slightly too mannered.

The compilation score is great with selections of delta blues and period jazz. Also the new jazz score by Gustavo Santaolalla is fine. The grim, violent, redneck country & western piece is terrifying.

The road movie is an exciting film genre with works by masters like Dreyer (They Reached the Ferry), Bergman (Wild Strawberries), Fellini (The Road), Antonioni (The Shout), and Chuck Jones (Road Runner)... Its roots go back to the Odyssey and the tradition of the picaresque novel. In the cinema certain trends of the Western and the Nordic lumberjack genre have affinities with the road movie. On the Road the novel is a central influence to the whole road movie tradition. On the Road the movie is a glorious adaptation but not a milestone in its own right.

The movie has been shot on photochemical 35 mm, but the film feeling has been lost in the digital intermediate process. It has lost much of that palpable, aching, sensual feeling that was clearly meant. The close-ups and interiors are fine, but there is something missing in the grand exteriors shot in many magnificent locations.

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