March 24, 2013
On Friday morning I read with interest Bill Goodykoontz's re-review of "On The Road" in the Arizona Republic
and ran out on Friday to see it immediately. I really wish I could say I loved it. I think Bill was generous (he gave it three stars out of five) and I thought Bill overall nailed it, but I have to disagree with his opening line "Okay, it's not the book." The problem with the movie is, it IS the book, just the wrong parts of the book.
The movie begins with the first lines of the book and ends with the very last paragraph being read in voiceover almost exactly—same inflections and pronunciations and gravel voice—as Kerouac read it on the Steve Allen television show. I would guess about 95% of the dialogue in the movie is straight out of the book (I recently read both versions, the cleaned up 1957 version and the Scroll Version with all the real names and real sex).
The problem is they tried to tell the story of the Beats which is historically accurate but that's not the power of the book (Man, is this ever a warning tale for me and my historically accurate obsessed friends). The reason the book is such a thrill is Kerouac's poetic waxing of his adventures on the road. NONE of his wonderful passages are quoted or narrated in the movie! They took the heart out of the book and filled the void with the setups to getting set to go on the road. Okay, there are some road passages in the film and some scenes are inspired, but they go by quickly and we're back to the city and the relationships of these doomed characters.
Way too much smoking, drugging and emoting and not enough road adventure is my take away. It may be fun to get high (okay, it's a total blast), but it sure isn't fun to watch people doing it, over and over.
Why would you have Dean Moriarity TELL a braggadocio version of a three-way with a virgin and a black guy when we have already seen what a cocksman he is in almost every other scene in the movie? That is just dumb moviemaking (Rule No. 1: don't tell, show). Wrong narrative choice and just overkill, and besides, by the end of the movie we are so tired of his BS and selfishness (all historically accurate by the way) that when we are supposed to feel for him in his last closeup the actual empathy we have for him is somewhere south of zero. It just plays like bad parody.
Anyway, just really wrong headed. Oh, and it's way too gay (for mainstream success). Granted it's in the book, but mostly it's hinted at, even in the Scroll Version. I admit there is something perverse about Steve Buscemi playing an uptight traveler who gets his poop chute rammed in a hotel room, but do we have to see it? At that point I thought to myself, "Well, you just lost the hetero-hotrod crowd." And what are they left with? An empty theatre at Camelview 5 with a cartoonist sitting in the dark wishing he was somewhere else. Now THAT is sad, because I loved the idea of this movie as much as the cats who made it (to paraphrase Jack).
It's amazing to me how really smart, talented filmmakers (Francis Ford Coppola and Walter Salles!) can lose their way so badly. It's like a rocketship coming back into the earth's atmosphere. If the angle is off by a mere 5 degrees, the spacecraft will miss the earth completely. And they missed the magic of On The Road completely. Perhaps they should pull it out of circulation for a second time and retitle it: On The Commode.
Just a thought.
"As in a dream, we zoomed through small crossroad towns smack out of the darkness and passed long lines of lounging harvest hands and cowboys in the night and were back out there. . .mad drunken Americans in the mighty land."
—Jack Kerouac, On The Road