December 21 – Today’s the day for the official U.S. “On The Road” opening. Walter Salles’ film has already been playing (in various versions) in Europe (and elsewhere) for some time now. (See earlier posts about it here and here and here) but today – Winter Solstice – it officially hits the U.S. screens.
Here’s a smattering of U.S. press responses. First, Kenneth Turan’s enthusiastic piece in the L.A.Times – “Salles has lovingly crafted a poetic, sensitive, achingly romantic version of the Kerouac book that captures the evanescence of its characters’ existence and the purity of their rebellious hunger for the essence of life..more than a tribute to people who have passed into legend..(its) recreation..uses youthful stars..to show how eternal that yearning remains”.
The youth and characterization is one thing several critics, it seems, have had some trouble with. Tom Sturridge‘s Allen (“Carlo Marx”) is either “a pleasingly vulnerable and youthful incarnation” (David Haglund in Slate) or “an embarrassing impression” (Elizabeth Weitzman in the New York Daily News).
From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review – “First the good news- America the Beautiful has rarely looked more ripe for exploration than it does in “On The Road”, a noble attempt by the Brazilian director Walter Salles to capture literary lightning in a bottle. With spacious skies stretching endlessly over open uncongested roads bordered by amber waves of grain, and purple mountains beckoning in the distance, the movie resurrects a perennial frontier dream and invites you to barrel into the unknown with its Beat Generation legends..” – Holden goes on – “Jose Rivera‘s scrupulously faithful screen adaption..tries (with only fitful success) to convey the bravado, passion and verve of Kerouac’s besotted streams of consciousness..”
“Fitful Success”? – This frustration with, arguably, the impossibility of adaption, is something that several of the reviewers zone in on – Linda Holmes (somewhat waspishly) for NPR – “What I wanted from “On The Road” [what I wanted?] was something that would capture what people love about Beat literature. What I got was a movie that genuinely draws its pleasures from people speaking painfully affected dialogue and doing lots of drugs and having lots of sex with each other. It’s exactly the parts of life [sic] that are better to experience than they are to hear about”
Not quite so acerbic but equally damning, perhaps, Jake Coyle for AP – “Walter Salles’ “On The Road” was made with noble intentions, finely-crafted filmmaking and handsome casting, but, alas, it does not burn, burn, burn…doesn’t pulse with the electric mad rush of Kerouac’s feverish phenomenon..ultimately feels conventional too neatly affected and too affectedly acted.” Nick Pinkerton in the Village Voice seems to share this sentiment (“”On The Road” is Tamed At Last”) – “(The film) does build to a certain rueful poignancy.. (to) one glimmer of truth..” [uh? only one?].
One of the most intelligent reviews we’ve read so far (intelligent, as in provocative, neither frustratedly sniping nor overly fawning) is the aforementioned David Haglund in Slate – “On The Road” is not a great movie”, he writes (leaving open what exactly the definition of a “great movie” is), “but it’s a pretty interesting work of literary criticism…throughout – whether on purpose or, as sometimes seems to be the case, accidentally – the movie makes one reconsider, and not entirely fondly, the beloved, messy, sporadically thrilling, frequently dispiriting, and widely misunderstood book that inspired it.” – “On The Road” makes us look at, among other things, not only youth, but gender (and expectations).
Other interesting “On The Road” reviews here and here, but heck, just turn to Rotten Tomatoes, the movie-review aggregating site, where last time we looked there were 82 of them!
Too late for last week, but not too late for this week’s Round-Up, Eliot Katz’s review of the recently-released Ginsberg Recordings Holy Soul Jelly Roll set (on Levi Asher’s venerable and informative Literary Kicks site) is very much worth perusing (in fact, is an essential read!)
Finally, The Boo-Hooray Gallery in New York (the gallery that has previously been featured here regarding exhibits on Angus MacLise, and on Ed Sanders‘ Fuck You Press) is currently presenting (through till January 16 – tho’ closed December 22-January 3rd) an exhibition of still images and ephemera relating to legendary film-maker (and Allen’s sometime consort) Barbara Rubin and her landmark 1963 underground film Christmas on Earth. The Gallery is also publishing a limited-edition book of still images from the movie (with an extended biographical essay and bibliography by art historian, Daniel Belasco).
More information about Barbara and about that project here and here.