Front row at the Movies
At “Big Sur”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Before there were hippies, America had beatniks. This was a stereotypical description of members of the so-called Beat Generation. The phrase Beat Generation was introduced in 1948 by writer Jack Kerouac to describe the “underground, anti-conformist youth movement in New York.” This countercultural literary phenomenon eventually spread to San Francisco, where it incorporated drugs, sexual experimentation, and Eastern religions.
It was marked by such writers and poets as Alan Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and of course Jack Kerouac.
Kerouac became famous for his autobiographical books “On the Road,” “The Subterraneans,” and “The Dharma Bums,” among others.
“Big Sur” was Kerouac’s 1962 novel, a fictional recounting of his stay in a cabin owned by Ferlinghetti at Bixby Canyon in Big Sur. The protagonist in the book is called Jack Duluoz, an alter ego for Kerouac.
As directed by Michael Polish (“The Astronaut Farmer”), the film calls the characters by their real names: Kerouac and his friend Neal Cassady. They have a common mistress, Billie.
The trips to Big Sur were intended to help Kerouac recuperate from the pressures of sudden fame following publication of “On the Road.” Instead, he faced a nervous breakdown on his third visit.
Jean-Marc Barr (“Dogville”) takes on the persona of Kerouac; Josh Lucas (“Stealth”) assumes the role of Cassady; and Kate Bosworth (“Superman Returns”) is cast as Billie. Also we have Radha Mitchell as Cassady’s wife Carolyn; Balthazar Getty as Michael McClure; and Anthony Edwards as Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
“Big Sur” is playing at the Tropic Cinema, an offering in this week’s Key West Film Festival.
Michael Polish and his brother Mark usually make movies together. But for this outing Michael goes it alone -- acting as director, co-producer, and writer.
He found it hard to turn a Kerouac novel into a movie. “How is this going to work? Because there’s no punctuation, the dialogue’s very sparse between people… He’s got this prose that’s incredibly tricky because he’s a language spinner. How are we going to put this all into one movie? Because the essence of it – of a person going crazy after fame – is very enticing to an artist at any level, to watch somebody go in that downward spiral is fascinating. But how are we going to do this different? And I thought if I stayed true to his inner mind and words from back to front, from beginning to end, at least people would know exactly what he was going through in his head.”
Michael Polish pulled it off, nonetheless.