One Fast Move Or I’m Gone (Pt.2)
The Vesuvio Cafe, North Beach, San Francisco (next to the City Lights Bookstore). As the schedule on my trip didn’t permit me to go down to Bixby Canyon I chose to use this photo to accompany the post.
For an overview of the project see pt.1 of my post here: http://wp.me/p1GcOs-35
The first few minutes of the film are setting the scene for the situation in which Kerouac found him after the publication of On The Road in 1957. It features some archival footage of Kerouac with a gang of people in New York and a few short interview pieces, amongst others with his then-girlfriend, Joyce Johnson.
A lovely few scenes shot aboard the present day California Zephyr interspersed with what seems to be 60’s footage of The Zephyr making its way through various landscapes bring the film into San Francisco – those scenes actually had very much of an influence on my decision to take The Zephyr on last year’s trip.
After that the events described in ‘Big Sur’ are told, shown and commented upon by the people involved and interviewed in chronological order, often through scenes shot at the various places mentioned in the book. In each scene there are either people interviewed or passages from ‘Big Sur’ read by them or the narrator, actor John Ventimiglia.
A large host of people various generations and professions or are involved in the film. Among them are some of the surviving acquaintances of Kerouac, such as poets Michael McClure and Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Carolyn Cassady. I have to say I have been surprised to see the latter too in here, both are obviously not young anymore (Ferlinghetti was born in 1919 and Cassady in 1923), but if you think about the fact that Kerouac, Neal Cassady and even Ginsberg are long dead it’s a nice surprise to see them alive and in apparently good spirits.
Other people appearing are musicians and songwriters such as Patti Smith, Tom Waits, Lenny Kaye, Dar Williams (who sheds tears on reading the end of ‘Big Sur’) and both people mainly responsible for the soundtrack, Jay Farrar and Benjamin Gibbard as well as David Amram (who used to accompany Kerouac’s poetry readings for a time). Actors appearing are the previously mentioned John Ventimiglia, Donal Logue, Sam Shepherd and Amber Tamblyn.
Unsurprisingly, there are a wide variety of writers involved as well. Among them are Bill Morgan, author of ‘The Beat Generation in New York and ‘The Beat Generation in SF’. Both books have been of great help to me in finding places and houses on last year’s trip and I would recommend both highly to anybody doing a similar trip (or living in any of the cities and interested in The Beats). Other writers interviewed are Aram Saroyan, Michael McClure, S.E. Hinton and fellow Lowellian Paul Marion, as a search on the Internet threw up, still lives in Lowell and is actively involved in a variety of community activities (not only, but also related to Kerouac, such as with the Kerouac Commemorative). Other notable poets and involved in the film are ‘The Mayor Of Haight Street’ Diamond Dave Whitaker and San Francisco Poet Laureate Jack Hirschman. The lightest comments are by Neal Cassady’s son John Allen Cassady who seems to be a slightly mad, but likable character, and the girl who owned Alf The Mule, which Kerouac wrote about a lot in Big Sur. Elsewhere the subject matter discussed and remarked upon is often more serious, but given the difficult time Kerouac had at that period and the often uncomfortable subject matter described in Big Sur, such as his alcohol-infused delusions and paranoid fits and the brief relationship with Jacky Gibson he couldn’t make work, that is not a surprise.
Some of the people were driven out to the cabin and can be seen walking around, sitting around a campfire or on the porch of the cabin while others are interviewed on various streets in San Francisco and New York and in clubs, bars and coffee shops.
The photographic style is extremely beautiful (people who prefer a somewhat grittier look quite possibly have a point there, but it works for me), with high definition photography and many gorgeous scenes of the landscapes at Big Sur. The visual emphasis often lies on detail shots of the cabin itself and the surroundings Bixby Canyon, the Pacific Ocean, roads and foliage as well as many San Francisco street scenes.
As for the music (see pt.1) of this review, the film does mainly feature small snippets of music, often played on various guitars by Jay Farrar, who is also seen playing acoustic guitar in a, what seems to be, a cheap hotel room on San Francisco’s Skid Row (whether or not that is an authentic Skid Row hotel room I can’t say for certain, but it looks the part).
The film clearly shows how much of an impact Kerouac still has on so many people and how much his books still touch people reading them. This, for me, is best put by Tom Waits who says that he doesn’t read Kerouac’s books with his brain, but with something else, which is exactly the feeling I experience when reading his books and why I have been doing so repeatedly for the last 20 years. Due to the facts that everybody involved seems to be well-informed, and a few people who actually knew him are involved, the film can even shed some light on a few of the facts surrounding the gestation of the book and as such, apart from telling the story of ‘Big Sur’, is an excellent and contemporary addition to ‘The Legend of Dulouz’.
Thank you to Dave Moore at the Kerouac Companion (http://www.beatbookcovers.com/kercomp/intro.html), which helped me to gather information about some of the people mentioned in this post and for doing all-round good work with KC and it’s parent site ‘Beat Book Covers’