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Hey, Jack Kerouac

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If you’ve been wondering why the media has been so filled with stories about Jack Kerouac lately, it’s all been leading up to today, the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of On the Road, a novel whose influence is hard to overestimate.

I began this post to explain that On the Road has never been turned into a movie because it’s a prime example of writing whose prose style can have no visual equivalent. Checking imdb.com, however, I see that no less than producer Francis Ford Coppola and director Walter Salles (Central Station, The Motorcycle Diaries) are trying to get an adaptation of the ground. Well, they said Naked Lunch could never be filmed either.

In the meantime, if you’re having a Kerouac attack and want to eyeball some celluloid (is there anything worse than bad imitations of beat writing?), options are slim. The only full-scale adaptation of a Kerouac novel is The Subterraneans, which is a nearly textbook example of the term “bowdlerization.” The fact that it’s not available on video or DVD is nothing to lose sleep over.

There are several good Kerouac documentaries, including Kerouac, the Movie and What Happened to Kerouac? Purists haggle over the value of The Source, which focuses on the whole Beat movement, but it’s a good way to get newbies interested in Kerouac, who is portrayed in dramatized readings by Johnny Depp. (Director Chuck Workman, better known as the creator of all those breathless montage sequences on the annual Academy Awards telecast, reputedly filmed Kerouac’s Visions of Cody in 2004, but it appears never to have been released.)

The closest you’ll get to Hollywood Kerouac is the 1980 feature Heart Beat, based on the autobiography of Carolyn Cassidy, wife of Kerouac’s inspiration Neal. It’s an uneven film, but the casting is terrific: John Heard as Kerouac, Sissy Spacek as Carolyn and Nick Nolte as Neal.

Or you could always check out the real thing, courtesy of YouTube:

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