The Beats Hit the Road Again on Screen
From left, Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and Garrett Hedlund in “On the Road.”
FOR filmmakers trying to capture the spirit of the Beats, there has always been the pressure — stated or not — of their work living up to the legends. Survivors of the movement, and the scholars who chronicled their every move, are certain to cast an unforgiving eye.
It has been no different for Walter Salles, the first director to finally wrestle Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” to the big screen more than five decades after its publication caused a literary sensation and launched a thousand road trips, not to mention innumerable road movies.
Mr. Salles’s answer was to endear himself to virtually every living Beat poet, artist and philosopher with a stake in the book’s legacy while literally retracing Kerouac’s crisscrossing of the country with a Super 8 camera. In other words, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
Among the Kerouac contemporaries Mr. Salles interviewed were the poets Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure, Diane di Prima and Amiri Baraka, as well as the Kerouac biographers Gerald Nicosia and Barry Gifford, who served as consultants on the film. The process consumed five of the eight years that the director has been toiling on the project, which had its premiere this month at the Cannes Film Festival and is expected to reach theaters in the fall.