What Happened to Kerouac ? – Documentary & Extras (lingua originale)
What Happened to Kerouac? was conceived when Lewis MacAdams and I attended a weeklong conference in 1982 at Colorado’s Naropa Institute, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the publication of Kerouac’s seminal work, On the Road. We spent the week taping twenty-one hours of interviews with Kerouac’s cronies and ex-lovers from the Beat movement. Everyone from Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and William Burroughs to Kerouac’s daughter, Jan, and his first wife, Edie Kerouac Parker, contributed memories and anecdotes made remarkably vivid by the convergence at this event of the many people who knew Jack Kerouac.
These interviews would become the backbone for the film. Yet for two years following the conference nothing happened with the footage. The project fell into limbo due to lack of money. It was wasteful and ridiculous to do nothing. I had filmed the Colorado interviews and knew how good the footage was. Then I raised some money and recruited my longtime friend Nick Dorsky, also a Kerouac fan and filmmaker, to edit the film.
Even when I was a junior in high school in Queens, New York, in 1959, my friends and I were flipped-out by On the Road and The Dharma Bums. Nick grew up in New Jersey and at fifteen had read On the Road. “That book broke my heart in a way,” he remembers. “It was like all of a sudden someone just poked me right in the chest.”
In making the film we were trying to show some of these great people before they disappeared. We had a rule to only use people from the interviews that knew Kerouac personally. Gregory Corso became a main voice in the film, providing humor and a poet’s insight. He had a lot to say, debunking a lot of the myths. But we couldn’t lose track of Kerouac’s voice ever during the film. We found we couldn’t go more than several minutes without having Jack in there speaking.
We didn’t want to depict Kerouac as an historical object in the film. It was very important to hear Jack’s voice and to treat it as poetry that is always alive. We found several recordings of Kerouac reading from his work—including Desolation Angels,Visions of Cody,and his ode to Charlie Parker and his chorus to his mother in Mexico City Blues. We wove these throughout the film.
Kerouac’s genius is most evident in his reading of Dr. Sax taken from a rare audiotape and in his reading of “October in the Railroad Earth” from Lonesome Traveler and “Friday Afternoon in the Universe” from Old Angel Midnight. In order to provide a visual complement to these recordings Nick shot 16mm Kodachrome footage in San Francisco, where Kerouac spent a great deal of time in the ’50s, and in Lowell, Massachusetts, where Kerouac was born and reared. Nick thought it was a precarious thing putting images to someone’s words, especially since the language is so successful. “You don’t want to overpower the words. The images could be literal or contrapuntal.”
Another visual highlight is the colorful footage from Rudy Burckhardt’s 1940s Times Square movies illustrating the big city’s nighttime world, inhabited here, by Allen Ginsberg and Herbert Huncke. Also, we incorporated two sharply contrasting stages of Kerouac’s life reflected in footage from two TV interviews. One with a nervous, shy Kerouac reading Visions of Cody on the Steve Allen Show in 1959, and the other, a drunk, witty, and ornery Kerouac on William F. Buckley’s Firing Line in 1968. To add more depth to the narrative I went out with cameraman Pat Darrin and shot interviews with Kerouac’s biographer Ann Charters, and the priest from his youth, Father Armand “Spike” Morissette.
The film has always been appealing to several generations. The three of us, Nick, Lewis, and myself, were in our forties when we made it. We felt the film was not only for people our age, it was also for people in their teens and twenties. The rampart materialism that existed in the 1950s when Kerouac was writing was parallel to what was going on in the 1980s, and is even more extreme today. Perhaps younger people are interested in seeing how these themes were dealt with in another time.
For an independent documentary in the 1980s, What Happened to Kerouac? played for a wide audience. New Yorker films released it theatrically in the U.S. and it played at many international festivals, including San Francisco, Denver, Montreal, Rotterdam, Torino, and New Directors/New Films at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
For this new DVD I re-mastered the original film, which included color correction, adding new photos,
and a jazz score by the talented pianist Austin Peralta.
In looking over some of the many film reviews from the 1980s, I was struck by a line that mirrored our own thinking. The film couldn’t answer its own title question in a way that is easily put into words. Michael Sragow wrote in the San Francisco Examiner: “That they don’t offer a definitive answer to What Happened to Kerouac? is true to the man himself who like Walt Whitman (one of his heroes) contained multitudes.”
TITLE: What Happened to Kerouac?
RIPPER: On The Road
BITRATE: 866 kbps
AIR DATE: -none-
CODEC: XviD 1.0.3
RLS DATE: 7/15/2005
SIZE: 699 MB
RUNTIME: 1 hour 36 mins
RELATED URL: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0090312/