Continuing from last week, (we can’t seem to leave it alone!) Kill Your Darlings (see earlier digests here and here) continues to garner reviews (mostly positive ones) – Michael O’Sullivan in The Washington Post takes up the debate over the blurring of fiction and fact (in particular, the presentation of Lucien Carr – wait a minute, “the Lucian Carr character”) – “You’d better like it complicated”, he writes, “The film is awash in delicious and difficult ambiguities”.
These “delicious and difficult ambiguities” are perhaps part of the reason for a curiously contrasting critical response to the film, nowhere better on display than in “the city by the bay”. Here’s Anita Katz in the San Francisco Examiner -(“The Beats Come To Life In “Kill Your Darlings””) – “The film is an absorbing personal drama, an informative look at a literary movement’s genesis, a lesson in gay history and a moving celebration of the creative spirit”. Compare this with Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle(“Muddled Look At Beats”) – “Despite it’s general intelligence and worthy performances, “Kill Your Darlings” makes it difficult to see how the Beats ever caught on.”
Michael Polish’s adaptation of Kerouac’s Big Sur, similarly, has had critics both contrastingly enthusiastic and despairing. Stephen Holden in The New York Times – “”Big Sur” cracks the code of how to adapt Jack Kerouac for the screen. The secret is deceptively simple. Go to the source and stay there. The hot-wired energy and spontaneity of the Beat mystique are embedded in writing that distills its feverish essence better than any hyped-up action. The hard part is melding readings with live action but “Big Sur” makes it look so easy that you hardly notice the transitions”. Holden gives high praise to Polish’s screenplay – “a seamless blend of astutely chosen swatches from the novel” narrated by Kerouac (Jean-Luc Barr) alongside “scenes of his interactions with Neal Cassady, Neal’s wife, Carolyn, and Neal’s mistress (here re-named “Billie)”. This emphasis on the text (as well as some undeniably “gorgeous” cinematography) is, for Holden, the film’s particular strength.
Not so for Shelia O’Malley, (writing in the space of the late Roger Ebert “Michael Polish’s “Big Sur”..is a strangely tepid experience”, she declares, “for such searing psychological material”. “The fault lies”, she believes, “in the heavy reliance on voice-over (all (of which is) taken from the book) which distances us from what is happening onscreen. Scenes are not allowed to unfold, to explode, to develop, to sit there, because the voice-over is too insistent, interjecting itself every other moment. What would have happened if (it) had been used more sparingly? What if the beautiful collage effect of Kerouac’s time in the woods (the film is stunningly beautiful) had been allowed to develop on its own, leaving more room for interpretation, chaos, life? There are moments that are allowed to breathe but they are few and far between”
John DeFore in his review in the Washington Post recognizes this too, calling it a “beautiful and sometimes affecting film”, but “its powerful literary voice..threatens to overwhelm the director”, and, as a result, it “sometimes feels like a beautiful illustration, rather than an adaptation, of Kerouac’s prose”. It’s “an understandable impulse” (“with Kerouac so eloquent on the subject of Cassady’s masculine appeal or the incomparable ache of awakening after four days of drinking”), but, regrettably, “an uncinematic one”.
It’s important to point out that “Big Sur” is not a fun-fest, so its distance and restraint is plausibly in keeping with its subject-matter (a point that DeFore comes to at the end of his review) – and Robert Abele in the LA Times – “the muted emptiness of the ill-fated sojourn wills its way towards something like existential meaningfulness”..”there’s a strange heft to its hollowness”.
Before leaving the matter of Beat movies, we couldn’t resist quoting again from our old bête noire, Rex Reed (see here for his pompous dismissal of “Kill Your Darlings”). Here’s Reed on “Big Sur” – “Fans of all that Beatnik self-indulgence find a literary significance in Kerouac’s writing that has always eluded me. Apparently, they eventually wore out the author too. The deadly screenplay (in the form of voice-over narration) is culled by writer-director Michael Polish from the verbose novel without regard for an audience’s patience. Don’t worry if you don’t connect. There’s nothing to connect to. The characters are never developed and nothing ever happens. The film has a restless, nomadic quality similar to Kerouac’s lifestyle, but [Reed quoting Gertrude Stein] there’s no there there. Such a surfeit of ranting despair and self-pity led to a nervous breakdown that signaled the end of the Beat Generation.” – Did it? Moving on..
Jon Day reviews Iain Sinclair‘s American Smoke in FT (the Financial Times), and Gerard DeGroot (“A wild, obsessive homage to the writers of the Beat Generation”) reviews it for the Daily Telegraph – here
James Campbell interviews him in The Guardian about the book (and about the Beats and other writers) here (Sukhdev Sandhu’s review in The Observer is here)
Lou Reed remembered by Patti Smith (in The New Yorker) “..I didn’t understand his erratic behavior or the intensity of his moods, which shifted, like his speech patterns, from speedy to laconic. But I understood his devotion to poetry and the transporting quality of his performances. He had black eyes, black t-shirt, pale skin. He was curious, sometimes suspicious, a voracious reader and a sonic explorer. An obscure guitar pedal was for him another kind of poem..He was our generation’s New York poet, championing its misfits as Whitman had championed its workingman and Lorca its persecuted..”
oh, and Happy Birthday Alice Notley!