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What Happened to Kerouac?
What Happened to Kerouac
Actors: Gregory Corso, Jan Kerouac, Herbert Huncke, Fran Landesman, William F. Buckley
Directors: Lewis MacAdams, Richard Lerner
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Documentary
NR     2003     1hr 36min

Biography of American author Jack Kerouac; Includes clips of his appearances on Allen's and Buckley's TV programs, and interviews with family, and friends.


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Movie Details

Actors: Gregory Corso, Jan Kerouac, Herbert Huncke, Fran Landesman, William F. Buckley
Directors: Lewis MacAdams, Richard Lerner
Creators: Nathaniel Dorsky, Eve Levy, Malcolm Hart, Jack Kerouac
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Biography
Studio: Shout Factory Theatr
Format: DVD - Black and White,Color
DVD Release Date: 08/05/2003
Original Release Date: 01/01/2004
Theatrical Release Date: 00/00/2004
Release Year: 2003
Run Time: 1hr 36min
Screens: Black and White,Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 3
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Interesting Man Awful Documentary
Annie L. Murphy | 11/02/2008
(1 out of 5 stars)

"No one seems to mention how awful shot and Produced this Documentary is. From the lighting to the boring and overly long interviews this is a documentary in need of some good editing and a director who knows something about making an interesting film. It appears the director has no idea how to shoot an interesting and decent looking documentary. Just pointing a camera at poorly lit people and letting them ramble on with no editing does not make for an interesting film. It is said that a great teacher can bring alive even the most boring subject matter and vice versa. This film takes an interesting man and a fascinating time and make it into a complete snoozefest."
Kerouac the Enigma
Scott Coblio | West Hollywood, CA United States | 01/05/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)

"I got into Kerouac by way of my interest in Neal Cassady, whom I can't really remember how I discovered. (I have yet to read "On the Road" but am familiar with Jack's prose style through spoken word recordings.) Anyway, I came to this doc more from an interest in the person than his work, which I think is common to a lot of people who love the Beats. Their personas are as much a part of their legend as anything they wrote.

That said, Jack looks like a troubled boy even in his best clips here, which are undoubtedly the earlier ones on the Steve Allen Show--probably in part because he was in what he perceived to be a sympathetic environment and therefore felt at liberty to indulge his playful and vulnerable side. He is in fact most touching as he reads excerpts from "On the Road". He is also a ruggedly handsome and charismatic figure, although his tendency for brooding and blustering is apparent even here. Far less flattering is his appearance on a later talk show, aptly titled "Firing Line" in which ,visibly drunk, he (understandably) reacts defensively and plays the fool to host William Buckley's cross examiner. This was only a year and a half before Jack's premature death from alcoholism, and he seems too beleagured with complexes to get out anything coherent. He seems to be trapped in a subjective hell wherein he believes everything and everyone to be part of some "organized effort to ignore him".

As a younger man however, his appeal--both personal and literary-- is obvious. He got American literature out of its stodgy rut, writing in bold, Hemingway-like strokes, blending narrative fiction with poetry off the top of his head in what was to be called "spontaneous prose". As one of his contemporaries points out in the interviews, this was a wildly adventurous choice to make in the fifties/sixties, from a man who could "write any way you want" but chose the road less travelled because that's where his passion was.

Neal Cassady is seen briefly in a clip filmed at A Different Light Bookstore, San Francisco in 1965. He appears with Allen Ginsberg, who is clearly enamored of him. Neal, as everyone knows, was Jack's muse/alter ego, the inspiration for the character of Dean Moriarty in "On the Road", and--according to many of his contemporaries--a kind of genius in his own right. However, nothing he says in this clip made any sense to me at all--and even Ginsberg seems at a loss to communicate with him. He too seems lost in his own head, trapped in some internal dialogue with himself. Still, it's easy to see how he could draw people in and inspire them. He had that alpha energy that makes things go. Mix it with good looks and charisma and you've got a cult! The cult of Neal. I think in some ways Jack was brooding because he wasn't Neal. Neal was the doer, and Jack was the observer/commentator, and one can never be the other, although each usually longs to be.

Carolyn Cassady--Neal's wife of 20 years, is unexpectedly good-humored and funny to listen to. Poor Carolyn was the anchor that kept Neal from floating into the outer stratospheres. Compared to Jack and Neal, her solidity and insistence on at least an operating level of convention make her a heavy in most books about the Beats, but it's clear from this interview that she was simply SANE. Pretty even in old age, with unbelievably beautiful blue eyes that still twinkle when she reminisces on Neal and her affair with Kerouac, she proves herself humorous, resilient and every inch their intellectual equal. She must also have been remarkably patient to deal with these two exasperating egotists, not to mention sporadic sexual meddling with her husband by Ginsberg. Somebody give this lady a medal!

In the end, this is a good doc for anyone interested in its subjects--it's a little heavy with talking heads and light on vintage footage, but all in all compelling, illuminating and worthwhile."
"On The Road" And On The Sidelines
Alfred Johnson | boston, ma | 09/12/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I know Jack Kerouac. Oh no, not the way his many "beat" writer friends did , at least those still alive at the time of this film's production in 1986 that provided the main "talking head" commentary. Gregory Corso (then still a madman of a poet in his own right as shown here in his answers to an interviewer's questions about his take on the great Kerouac's demise), William Burroughs (of "Naked Lunch" fame) and super-poet Allen Ginsberg (of "Howl" and "Kaddish" fame) among others knew him back on those lonely, down-at-the heel, provocative post-World War II New York streets. That is the stuff of legend and well before my time, although I heard the echoes of that struggle in my own youthful efforts to break out of the straightjacket of the 1950s when my time came in the 1960s.

Nor do I know Jack Keroauc from being a latter-day devotee of his spontaneous prose writing style or his standoffish, sideline view of life and consciously apolitical lifestyle, as is embarrassingly emphasized here in a famous segment on William F. Buckley's "Firing Line" public television show where he went out of his boozy way to dump on the counter-cultural movement ("hippies", okay) of the 1960s. From early on in my youth I was more likely to be immersed in reading things like "The Communist Manifesto" (if only to dismiss it out of hand-then) and had no time for reading a "beat" travelogue like "On The Road" although I was personally struggling along those same lines to `find myself' (sound familiar ?) . Later I would devour the thing (repeatedly) along with the rest of his major works like "Dharma Bums', Visions Of Cody". "Big Sur", "Doctor Sax" and others.

Here is how I do know Jack Kerouac. I know, like Kerouac did as well, as a youth painfully but now with a sense of deep pride, what being from the lower edges of the working class was all about. One does not easily shake off the slow incremental deathblows to the psyche of avoiding authority, avoiding challenges to the status quo, avoiding failure by being a non-starter and most of all avoiding negative public (read neighborhood) notice. I, moreover, know, physically and emotionally, the very constricted ethos of the old time New England mill towns and the working class quarters of Manchester, New Hampshire, Saco, Maine and in Massachusetts Waltham, Lawrence, Quincy and Jack's own beloved mill town of Lowell. Without going into great detail, after all this review is about Kerouac, I know in great personal detail the effects of that clannish French-Canadian and Gallic Catholic cultural gradient as it worked it way through the working class base of many of those mill towns. Some of that detailed knowledge of mine is directly linked to the city of Lowell that factors so much into Kerouac's life and writings (and death, the city has a small urban park named after him in the center of town and people, I am told, still go to visit his grave there).

Most of all, though, I know Jack Kerouac because a generation, more or less, after him I was, like a million others who formed the "Generation of `68", taking to the `road', some road, in search of personal destiny, greater consciousness, some political wisdom, the truth or just trying to get out of the family house. The previously disdained apolitical "On The Road" became something of a personal bible for me , as like Whitman before him Kerouac tried to do by interior monologue, but more importantly, by physically putting some space between the here of whatever was bothering him and the there of some inner peace (that he, at least, never found). The road I took then, or later, was not Jack's road. Or Dean Moriarty's road. But, thanks Jack for "On The Road", "The Dharma Bums", "Doctor Sax", "Visions of Cody" and a bunch of other books that got me through many a sleepless night.

But enough of that. We are, after, all reviewing a documentary that has as it underlying premise an analysis of Kerouac's retreat to the sidelines (which is the reason that word forms part of the headline for this entry), as "king of the beats" writer and as something more than a conveniently symbolic media celebrity. This one and one half hour production goes through the main events of Kerouac's life: the driven handsome athletic youth; the star-struck and searching Columbia University student: the budding frenetic writer who, luckily, very luckily I would say, met some kindred spirits like Allen Ginsberg, the "drugstore cowboy" William Burroughs, and a host of others in New York City in the mid-1940s and never looked back. Critically important also are the subsequent travels west hitching up with Neal Cassidy (the model for Dean Moriarty), Gary Snyder, Gregory Corso and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

However, as many of the commentators in the documentary attest to, it was always about the writing for Jack, that compulsive need to put out as many ideas as his hand (or typewriter) could produce before exhaustion set in. That, ominously, meant keeping it fresh, keeping it real under the "laws" the spontaneous writing method. Once Keroauc got some notice, in short, when "On The Road" finally got published, and he, for good or evil, fell into the clutches of the great media maw of that day (nothing, by the way, from what appeared in this film compared to today's 24/7 blitz that would have really done him in earlier) he began to decline.

As media-proclaimed `leader' of the "beats" (and, in retrospect, he really was the most talented and original of the lot) all those old time mill town anxieties, drawing on generations of suffering ignoble anonymity, the wheels, driven as well by that old devil alcohol , came off. The effects of that cloistered, repressed working class youth, as surely as if he had spent thirty years in the mills, began to take its toll. Moreover, a recent re-reading of some of "Dharma Bums" gives at least some clue to what happened to this superior and innovative writer. He was, as the work that is remembered today will attest to, a young writer writing for the young about youthful experiences. There is only so much fresh inner-directed material that that market can absorb from one writer. The aging media celebrity Kerouac became, sadly, could not, or would not, face the fact of aging and shift gears. I have already given my kudos above for the youthful work of his. That will have to do here.

Note: For those who never heard, or hear, the `beat' of the "beats" the whole mood of this documentary puts you in a time capsule back to those times musically with some very evocative jazz of the period and visually with great footage of post-war neon lit New York and San Francisco (as well as footage from hometown Lowell with some street scenes of old time residents that only add to some of my points made above). Best of all are the segments of Kerouac reading from "On The Road" and other materials. They evoke the feeling of some smoky, boozy nightspot. These works were, after all, written under the sign of the burgeoning 1940s and 1950s jazz scene and with the idea of presenting the works orally as well as on the page. Nice, especially one segment with 1950s comedian and talk show host Steve Allen on piano.

Kerouac Raw ...
Steffan Piper | Palm Desert, CA | 11/12/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

Not much exists in the way of documentaries about the father of the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac. But it's not for a lack of interest for sure. I think the bulk of people that have seen this may have either rented it from a library or have seen it re-run on your local PBS channel. The quality of the film doesn't lend itself to the digital age very well, as the presentation of the interviews and the facts about the life of one of America's greatest writers is handled in a very film-school type of fashion.

I don't mean to denigrate this documentary at all with that last statement, but the quality of the presentation is just as rough as the actual archive footage. Only the presentation can be weighed in the sense of filmmaking, but in truth it is what it is. It's not slick, it's not polished, it's not even artful like the recent Bukowski Documentary, but it is fascinating, intelligent, absorbing and powerful to watch.

As most may know, Jack Kerouac drank himself into the grave in the late sixties, for reasons known and unknown. The weight he carried was a significant one that pushed him as deep into himself as he could go until his inner body could no longer sustain him. A lot of the troubled history of Kerouac is fleshed out as well as his stomping grounds, his old lovers, his daughter, some of his friends and other contemporaries.

The interview with Gregory Corso is a fascinating one to say the least and one can understand why the man decided to turn to teaching literature. The way he tells the stories and the stories themselves are powerful in his hands as he speaks highly and respectfully of Kerouac and in way in which a true friend who never left his side would.

This is a very touching and personal, albeit rough, look into the life and times of one of America's most compelling writers of the last age. While you may complain about the unmastered archive footage, you'll be amazed at the segment with Steve Allen, the interview with William F. Buckley, where Jack is drunk on air, and so on.

This is a very enjoyable and well worth the time spent.

... ..."