Category Archives: On the Road

“On the Road,” the 2012 film & the “On the Road” poet

I finally recently saw the film version of the Jack Kerouac novel On the Road. Considered an autobiographical novel, since its publication in 1957 it has become almost a treatise documenting the freewheeling lifestyle of people who lived outside the perimeter of mainstream middle America in the late 1940s/early 1950s. The story is narrated by the character, Sal Paradise (in real life Jack Kerouac,) an aspiring writer who develops a friendship with a hard drivin’, hard lovin’, hard drinkin’ man, Dean Moriarty (in real life Neal Cassady) and the sensitive homosexual poet, Carlo Marx (in real life Allen Ginsberg). As these people, during the course of the story, join up at various points, their escapades include driving feverishly across America or hanging out together in Denver, New York or San Francisco. For the most part these adventures comprise much of the narrative. Joining with them are other characters who also impact their lives and the novel as well.

The movie “On the Road,” it turns out in my opinion, is not as good as it could have been, and yet it could’ve been worse than what it is. Some of the adventures/travels, given considerable description in the novel, are not portrayed in detail in film, and I found that amiss. Other situations or characters, however, when seen on the big screen, actually made more sense to me than what I got while reading the book. The movie does seem to have a lot of sex, drugs and jazz (as one IMDB reviewer succinctly states) in it, and while the depiction of such is no longer shocking to today’s audience, there is a sense that the intensity of such a life cannot go on indefinitely.

Much has been written about the Beat movement including the poet Allen Ginsberg whose famous 1956 poem, “Howl” was the subject of the 2010 film starring James Franco as Ginsberg himself. Not to give too much away, there is scene in the “On the Road” film when Sal smiles as he receives a copy of the freshly published “Howl” written by his friend, Carlo Marx.

Howl (the beginning lines of this poem…)
by Allen Ginsberg (aka Carlo Marx in the novel and film On the Road)

For Carl Solomon

I.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat
up smoking in the supernatural darkness of
cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities
contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and
saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes
hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy
among the scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy &
publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull,
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear,
burning their money in wastebaskets and listening
to the Terror through the wall,
who got busted in their pubic beards returning through
Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York,
who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in
Paradise Alley, death, or purgatoried their
torsos night after night
with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares,
alcohol and cock and endless balls,
incomparable blind; streets of shuddering cloud and
lightning in the mind leaping toward poles of Canada & Paterson,
illuminating all the motionless world of Time between,
Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery
dawns, wine drunkenness over the rooftops,
storefront boroughs of teahead joyride neon
blinking traffic light, sun and moon and tree
vibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brooklyn,
ashcan rantings and kind king light of mind,
who chained themselves to subways for the endless
ride from Battery to holy Bronx on benzedrine
until the noise of wheels and children brought
them down shuddering mouth-wracked and
battered bleak of brain all drained of brilliance
in the drear light of Zoo,…

See: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/179381 for entire poem “Howl”

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