Sur has a long history of inspiring artists, from Henry Miller to Charles
Lloyd. Jack Keouac was also one of them,
sort of. Adapting Kerouac’s
autobiographical novel of his time spent along California’s scenic central
coast, Michael Polish conveys an impressionistic sense of Kerouac’s language
and the lonesome unspoiled environment in Big
screens during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
protect the guilty (most definitely including himself), Kerouac changed the
names of the Beat elite who appear in Big
Sur. Polish changes them back,
perhaps to make the film more commercial, but frankly there is no mistaking
Kerouac or the Cassadys (or Ferlinghetti for that matter). Only a few years have passed since the publication
of On the Road, but Kerouac is not
dealing with success well. The literary
rock star has come to California with the intention of holing up in
Ferlinghetti’s Big Sur cabin to purge his soul.
However, a typical Kerouac bender delays his arrival at City Lights.
Ferlinghetti ensconces Kerouac in Big Sur, hoping his time spent in isolation
will recharge his creative drive. For a
few days, Kerouac enjoys communing with nature, but he gets antsy quickly. Before long, he is reconnecting with Neal
Cassady, launching into a doomed relationship with his friend’s soon to be
former mistress, and generally carousing with the usual suspects.
plot goes, Big Sur leans to the
sparse end of the spectrum, making it a real cinematic challenge. However, Polish arguably captures the rhythm and
vibe of Kerouac’s language better than any other filmmaker, directly incorporating
generous excerpts from Kerouac’s novel, read by Jean-Marc Barr in the persona
of the author. Accompanied by images of
natural beauty and underscored by a subtle but stylistically diverse score, Big Sur is not unlike a cinematic tone
poem at times.
the film is surprisingly peppy. Rather
than hold one striking image for an interminable length of time, Polish shows
the audience one after another, after yet another, in rapid succession. As result, Big
Sur always feels like it is getting somewhere, even when it has little
narrative business to show for itself.
rich visual feast, Big Sur functions
as a heck of a show-reel for cinematographer M. David Cullen (whose extensive
credits include Jennifer’s Body). Barr also sounds great reciting Kerouac, but
dramatically his work is something of a mixed bag. He lacks Kerouac’s considerable physicality
and charm, but he certainly expresses the restlessness that defined the author,
as well as his aura of danger and dissolute inclinations. Cullen’s lens also loves Kate Bosworth. Nonetheless, she is largely wasted as Kerouac’s
increasingly exasperated lover Billie, but Anthony Edwards adds an appealing
human dimension to the proceedings as Ferlinghetti.
If you see one Beat Generation related film at
Sundance, it should be Big Sur rather
than the over-hyped Kill Your Darlings. Granted, it might not completely pull it off,
but Polish’s film comes far closer to translating Kerouac to the big screen
than other recent attempts. There are
even surprisingly playful moments that suggest the Pull My Daisy spirit. Recommended
for Beat fans, Big Sur screens today
(1/25) in Ogden and tomorrow (1/26) in Salt Lake as a Premiere selection of
this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Labels: Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Sundance '13