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Manuel de Layet [Film Festival 05.24.12] drama

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This should have been the ultimate road movie. You read me well: Should have.

As a foreword I have to confess that “on the road” is my travel book, everywhere I go I’ve got it on me, so basically my expectations where so skyscraper high I could piss atop of them and sprinkle rain down an unsuspecting continent, and that is surely why I didn't find many redeeming qualities in Walter Salles' version of it.

Of course, there's no real way to masterfully adapt a classic of literature. But some are better made than others, for me this one is comfortably lounging at the bottom of the quality scale. As a whole it felt bland and boring and doesn't even manage to come close to the feelings the book forces upon you, save for some more inspired short sequences disseminated throughout. On the other hand it's quite a challenge to turn a story where people are constantly abusing sex, drugs and alcohol into a pair of boring hours. Honestly, these Ocean Breeze rehab reviews are more compelling.

However, seeing this celluloid version, you can't begin to grasp why the book spread like a wildfire and is one of the corner stones of American counter-culture. Of course if you never heard about the whole Beat movement, that Burroughs, Kerouac, Ginsberg and Cassady are totally unknown to you, which in my mind means you're either 8 years old, or lived in seclusion since the fifties (in both case, what on earth are you doing here?), you can enjoy the mildly amusing road trip and puritanical fucking sessions. This was begging for something grittier, some actual porn, not the hollywoodian dry-humping and moaning on a 4/2/4 rhythm with bad lightning and fake-looking sweat.

Even the drugs are given the lukewarm treatment, we get some promo shots of the good old Benzedrine inhaler, cracked open to eat the paper inside or drink it diluted in coffee, marijuana being still hip nowadays gets her share, but the heroin addiction of Burroughs is merely and quickly hinted at.

I also laughed a lot at what my old Directing teacher, blessed be his wary soul, called the Godard effect: “When you don't know what to do with your actors, you make them smoke”. See Belmondo in A bout de souffle. It's the same here, maybe it's consequences of the smoking bans enforced pretty everywhere, but there's a mildly fetishistic display of the mere act of smoking, not bringing anything to the narration nor building the characters

The whole exhilarating despair that grips you between the bouts of grieving joy, along the travels and whims of the original characters is completely lacking from the shallowed shadows we see flickering about on the screen.

Talking about flicker, a few words about the global production value, because it's actually pretty ironic. This is a genuine mainstream object. The way it's shot, lighted, edited have all the hallmarks of your usual A-series feature film. Our Beat outsiders, stigmatized in their time for being drifting away from the accepted values and common decency, are now given a complete mainstream treatment. That's the dark side of the whole “art for the masses” motto, and that's where, in my snobbish and condescending opinion, it do find the biggest failure of the whole endeavour.

You can argue that's a form of complete recognition of the works to be so maimed and dulled around to appeal to the widest audience possible, I still believe it's almost as sad as a torn and coal covered Christmas sock glued to the chimney by Rudolf's come.

Thanks to that visual treatment, you never get a real feel for the genuine odyssey it was to cross the united states backpacking, without even knowing if your friends will still be there when you reach destination, nor the hardships interwoven. You don't even get a feeling of the gigantic spaces crossed, the ambience shots of roads and surroundings do focus too much on the road, blocking the view, the mind, the soul.

I know it's called “on the road”, but actually displaying a road instead of what it means (the open spaces around, the people and place crossed met and fucked, this feeling of being a small flutter of dust carried away along that unending stretch of asphalt and grime) is actually avoiding to deal with the whole subject.

And it's actually that core subject that made the book such a timeless classic. Reading it you get the feeling of what their lives were, of how many boundaries they crossed in their search for a meaning to life, the universe and themselves. From the depths of the pages, the collected experiences of Jack and his pals reach and grab your soul, shaking it to-and-fro, echoing your own joys and sorrows.

On the same train of thoughts the total obsession for books that was shared by Cassady, Ginsberg and Kerouac isn't exactly highlighted, making them appear as no more than drinking buddies, without the greater community of spirits, and uplifting subsequent love, for the written word as a remedy for life.

A question also, despite my joy at seeing him play William Burroughs, why do we have to see Viggo Mortensen's scrotum every time? Is it his acting trademark? “Go watch my movie, you'll see my balls”. Food for thoughts isn't it?

Anyway if you want to get a feel of the Beat generation, binge yourself silly while reading Naked lunch, Howl and On the Road for starters, even better get a listen of the infamous “Blues and Haiku” collaboration between Kerouac and Zoot Sims, but stay away from that movie.

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