Walter Salle’s portrayal of Beat classic On The Road has been causing a stir since it’s Cannes Festival debut in May. It was always going to be difficult, dealing with such an iconic novel. But I’m finding the hostility that the film’s received from diehard Kerouac fans a bit unnecessary. I’ve watched the trailer and a couple of clips and it looks pretty good. I think the casting was spot on – Sam Riley was fantastic in last year’s Brighton Rock and Kristen Stewart is a good shout to give any offbeat coming-of-age saga a bit of credibility (I think we will eventually have to forgive her for twilight, people).
So why all the aggro? Critics have okay-ed it or trashed it, neo-beatniks have their goatees in a twist.
The thing is, David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Naked Lunch got a similar response back in 1991. Though it didn’t do half bad at the box office, critical reception was really mixed and a lot of high brow culture bods were unhappy with Cronenberg’s efforts because he’d used multiple texts and real life incidents to create the film’s plot.
And then there’s the volumes of Beat literature that have remained untouched. I don’t think anyone’s even tried to buy the rights to Junky, the best known novel from the entire genre.
The desire to protect classics is an honourable one, but when the intelligentsia declare something crap before it’s even been released to the masses it risks two things; firstly – directors will be ever reluctant to take on such beloved sacred cows and we’ll remain flogged with shit. And secondly, you close a whole movement to people who might never have considered reading the books, had they not seen the film. Lets face it, I love a book, I will ALWAYS choose a book over a film, but most people have lives. And a book is an investment of time, something the reader must pick carefully for optimum return of that investment. A film takes two hours out of your life, a whole lot more people are willing to throw away two hours. If they enjoy On The Road, maybe they’ll read your bleedin’ precious novel.
It’s out over here in September, but you might still be able to grab tickets for a pre-release viewing at the open air cinema, Somerset House. Don’t be a snob. Go and see it.
Written by Becky ‘Feel the Beat’ Shepherd