John Antonelli – Kerouac The Movie

Still reeling from the Kerouac 90th birthday celebrations of last week, and before the expected onslaught of publicity following Walter Salles’ upcoming, On The Road adaptation, we turn to Kerouac-in-the-movies, and in particular John Antonelli’s 1985 documentary (or is it docu-drama?)

(also, speaking of Kerouac movies, and also well worth seeing, is Richard Lerner and Lewis MacAdams investigation, “What Happened to Kerouac?” (here‘s the trailer), but we’ll save that for another time)

ocu-drama – i.e. some of the film is re-enactments (Jack Coulter plays Kerouac, David Andrews plays Dean Moriarty/Neal Cassady). Peter Coyote provides narrative/voice-over. This aspect of the movie is perhaps less successful, but participation by the “real life” participants?Invaluable contributions here, not only from Allen, but also from William S Burroughs, Herbert Huncke, Carolyn Cassady, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Robert Creeley, John Clellon Holmes, Joyce Johnson, Edie Kerouac Parker, Ann Charters, and a host of others. Also vintage archival footage (the movie is book-ended by Kerouac’s famous appearance on the Steve Allen show, Allen playing piano, Kerouac reading from On The Road)

Allen’s sound-bytes (he appears on a number of occasions in the film) are as follows:

on Kerouac – “He had a compassionate open understanding of..alley-cats, and old-ladies-in-the-park empathy”

“He himself was in the bughouse in the navy so he met bureaucracy during the war and conquered it by coming to the conclusion – “best avoid the authorities” (old Chinese wisdom).”

and he goes on:

“From 1944 or so on, we began experimenting (myself, Burroughs, Kerouac, Huncke, and others) with benzedrine inhalers. I found, within a year, that I couldn’t hardly write on them because my mind got too tangled, but Jack found that he could write novels on them, and I think a few of his novels in the early ’50’s, and maybe some aspects of The Town and the City were written on amphetamine, benzedrine inhalers, actually, and maybe “dexies” (dexedrine). I think Jack’s practice was to sit down and exhaust himself at a typewriter for several weeks at a time, living a very straight regimen, you know, writing continuously for, say, four, five, six, seven hours a day, or maybe the whole day, sleeping it off, getting a big breakfast, starting it all over again, healthy, the next day, and continuing”

“Kerouac would empathize dramatically with most of the persons he knew, and assign them archetypal world stage roles. He had a way of comparing people to characters in novels that were favored by everybody, so that everybody came sort of familiar with their alter-ego as seen through Kerouac’s eyes, so that he made, actually, a mythology of his own life, and put people into the mythology, and it was a mythology that was tender and dear and mortal, that people knowingly fell into it, with pleasure, because it was an interpretation that made sense. Actually, the portraits were caricatures even, but there was enough basic sympathy, so that everybody got hooked in and charmed. And it’s charmed everybody since.”

“At that time everybody knew the fact that Jack was a big angelic genius because this was the mid ’50’s and he’d already written On The Road, and Visions of Neal, and Dr.Sax, and (The) Subterraneans, and Visions of Cody, and Mexico City Blues, and many other works, by 1955, and we’d all read them, so we knew it, so whatever he did was alright. So he would withdraw, while we were left to carry on the day’s business (say, me and Peter to wash the dishes, or Philip Whalen to go about his business watching chickens in the chicken laboratory, or Gary (Snyder) to do whatever he had to do (study his books?)). Then we’d make an appointment when we’d get together, say later in the week, or later in the day, to actually converse, party, or go visit people.”

“He came to New York for the William Buckley show. We were in Burroughs’ room in a hotel. Jack was with a couple of Greek brothers-in-law and he wanted Bill to come down. Bill said, “No Jack, you’re too drunk, I don’t want to witness this outrage. So I went down with him and (he) took out a tiny little bottle in the dressing room and was tippling from that (I think he had an old 1920’s F.Scott Fitzgerald hip-flask at that point) and then got up on the Buckley program with that same heavy, solid, red-neck, beer-belly, look.”

“He was more and more involved with the idea of suffering (as he’d always been) but in a Catholic..Christian and Catholic vision of scared heart, wounded heart. (He) made a lot of paintings of Christ’s suffering, of Mary suffering, and saw, in his own existence, the suffering to the point that he wondered why it was worth being born. When Gregory (Corso) had a baby, he said, “aw, you’re bringing a thing up to die” – it’s a cruel remark, not very tender, but on the other hand, springing from a frank understanding that birth means death.”

“I don’t know of any other writer who had more seminal influence than Kerouac in opening up the heart of the writer to tell the truth from his own secret personal mind.”

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