What Happened To Kerouac?

What Happened To Kerouac? is a 1986 film by Richard Lerner and Lewis MacAdams. I watched it for the first time last night, but as I am familiar with his story rather well, there wasn’t a whole lot of information in the film I didn’t yet know. Nevertheless it was interesting to hear and see a lot of the people interviewed  in here. Gregory Corso with (what looked like) not a lot of teeth left in his mouth, so you can’t understand him terribly well, but he seemed to be in clear spirits and most of the things he said made sense to me.I believe I never saw Neal Cassady in film footage before, here he can be seen in a few home movies and at a reading/interview session with Allen Ginsberg in the City Lights Bookstore (I believe sometime in 1965).  Also interviewed are Kerouac’s only daughter Jan (who died similarly young as her father), fellow writers/poets Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, John Clellon Holmes,  and City Lights’ Lawrence Ferlinghetti as well as a few of Kerouac’s past loves’ Edie Parker, Carolyn Cassady, Joyce Johnson and even his beloved mum. In surprisingly good shape, considering their long-standing drug habits, were William S. Burroughs and Herbert Huncke, especially William S. Burroughs was sharp as ever in his ability to assess situations, behaviors and people.

The photographic style in the interview bits wasn’t very appealing, but in scenes that accompanied the reading of some of Kerouac’s texts, the imagery was very intriguing with wonderful grainy shots of trains, streets, buildings and people, mainly in San Francisco, Lowell and New York City.

The most troubling scenes however for me, were the ones from the William Buckley show in 1968, with Kerouac, obviously drunk, ill, sometimes hardly awake and ranting (well, ranting is a bit strong of a word probably, as he’s not saying very much) and being rude to Allen Ginsberg (who was in the audience) and fellow panelist The Fugs’ Ed Sanders (who took Kerouac’s verbal assaults in rather good spirits) – a sad sight indeed. Of course that was just a year before his death so his troubled state of mind and health is well documented and this appearance (which I hadn’t seen before) isn’t really a surprise, but still it’s sad to see him like this.

More uplifting (and in the case of Kerouac’s reading of ‘October In The Railroad Earth’ almost magic), are the scenes from his appearance on the Steve Allen Show, with which he also recorded an album of the same material and 13 more of his poems. The record was re-released on CD in 1999 and I will write a future blog post about it soon.

All in all a film I am glad I bought on DVD, for and despite the reasons mentioned above.

Thanks for reading.

One Response to “What Happened To Kerouac?”
  1. Thanks for sharing your review. I’ve seen the Steve Allen clips before and love them so much!

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