off the road

Maybe it's because I was born out West, because I've always been drawn to the idea - and the aesthetic - of the open road.

Not the Wild West of black and white Westerns - that's for boys (although, that said, my husband recently practically forced me to sit down and watch a series of the early John Ford westerns with him, and the cinematography spoke to me: those landscapes, shot in and around Utah, where I spent the first year of my life, are so imprinted on my soul).

So I did get a slight frisson (okay, that's an oxymoron: frisson, pronounced "frēˈsôN", is defined as "a sudden strong feeling of excitement or fear; a thrill", but trust  me, this was only a slight frisson) when I heard they were making a film of Jack Kerouac's iconic novel, On the Road. The first thing that came to mind was an old song I knew from the 70s, from a band named Aztec Two Step that it seemed only a handful of friends - and my boyfriend - knew about. It took me forever to find you a version of the original song on YouTube, so I do hope someone out there plays it all the way through - if only to let me know if you like it half as much as I did - and still do. It's got an energy to it, a certain je ne sais quoi - a frisson.

But as a friend said recently, I, too, was greatly underwhelmed when I read the book in college. It was the late Seventies: all my friends' older brothers and sisters had already done everything there was to be done, and we were doing our best to hold our end of the team up - to be Bad - but come graduation, instead of living on communes and baking bread - another great Aztec Two Step song which I cannot find in its original version - my principled friends and peers were going for jobs on Wall Street, and soon after, it seems, the Reagan Thatcher years had kicked in, and it was all primary colours and red Armani suits with shoulder pads.

And Vivien Westwood, and the Sex Pistols, and in NY, the Mudd Club and CBGBs and Talking Heads and the Ramones.

You've probably heard the story behind the story of how On the Road finally became a film: how Francis Ford Coppola bought the rights in 1979 - right around the time I was playing the song and casting the cutest guys I knew - personally, or in the music world, because then, they were our Gods, not actors, or chefs - but watching the film last week was as much of a let down as reading the book.

And that made me so sad, because the footage - some of the scenery shots, especially - was gorgeous.

So what was the problem? I kept asking myself all through the film - it was easy enough to multi task, follow the plot while carrying on this internal conversation. Yes, the world has changed - yet again, as it always does - and we're at a stage, culturally, where because anything goes, it's hard to shock (a friend's daughter was going off to college and we were talking about what a good relationship she has with her - they can talk about anything - and I said 'well that's because there isn't anything she could do, really, that you guys haven't done' and she thought for a moment and said 'God, I hope not!). 

So there's that: it's hard to see that these people were living, thinking, being, in a way that was completely outside of what was normal to the times: to me, watching the film, they just looked like college students anywhere, perhaps poorer than the average median, playing at being bad. 

And I loved the idea that - after all these years and the long journey that the book has taken to finally be seen on the silver screen - that it went to the brilliant Brazilian director Walter Salles. Because Brazil is a place where the context of being 'counter culture' has more relevance. And he's a great director.

And STILL it didn't work.

So it comes down, for me, to the casting. The two Kristens - Stewart and Dunst - wonderful. Perfect. Sam Riley was good enough as Sal Paradise: that's the role of the Friend, which isn't easy to play in any film, but as long as you keep your mouth shut most of the time, and look either sad, outraged, pitying, or happy - depending on the mood of the moment - and don't draw too much attention to yourself, you'll do just fine. Especially if you can do Brood well, as Sam's nailed.

But the problem for me was Dean himself. 

I don't know who Garret Hedlund is, so no offence to him as a person, and I know he did his best, but all I kept thinking is, oh how I wish this was a young Brad Pitt - in his Thelma and Louise days. I just didn't believe that this guy would make the two Kristens so crazy: I was convinced that they were really pissed off at him for being a lyin' cheatin' bastard, but didn't get at all why they couldn't live without him. That power: that charm, charisma, animal magnetism.. just didn't get it. 

(Later - reading up on the history - it seems Coppola did try, many years ago, to do it with Ethan Hawk as Sal, and Brad Pitt as Dean Moriaty, and if only he did it then. Even later on, Billy Crudup and Colin Firth as Dean.. then, the colouring would match the original Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, the author's friend and the model for Moriaty. Apparently Kerouac originally wrote to Marlon Brando, asking HIM to play Dean in the film - and he wanted to play himself, as Sal, which I wish I could have seen: in the photos, Jack Kerouac, the writer, really looks like he'd make a great actor).

So I was watching the film, waiting for it to end, enjoying the ride because after all, my aesthetic, my photography, the way I dress, the fact that I'm obsessed with moving to California, my yearning for the open road, the self portraits I've taken all these years and take, still (altho the top one is by my friend Maryann Kissane, in Tranquility, nearly as long ago as Coppola started trying to get On the Road made.)

And I started thinking of who, if anyone, is alive, young enough to play opposite Kristen Stewart and Kristen Dunst, and has what it takes to make us believe that women - and men - would do anything, ANYTHING, to be within his orbit.

And I can think of only one actor: Robert Pattinson. 

Now THAT would have made a great film.

No comments: