Tag Archives: Jack Kerouac

Before the Howl

Kill Your Darlings

by Hope Madden

There are countless, fascinating stories surrounding the earliest Beat Generation writers – likely because they were sort of endlessly fascinating themselves. That, plus they kept writing about their adventures, so legends are born.

Any film about the Beats is a dream and a nightmare for writers and cast alike. What writer wouldn’t want to take a shot at a conversation between Allen Ginsburg and William Burroughs? And yet, what writer would dare?

The same can be said for any actor hoping to capture these literary characters we know so well from their own pages. But Kill Your Darlings aims to do justice to all of it – the movement, the participants, the socio-political climate, and the true crime story few recall.

Kill Your Darlings revisits that burgeoning circle of geniuses to spin a more somber origins story than those we usually hear. Rather than emphasizing the madcap, mind-altering, conformity-be-damned journeys of Ginsburg, Burroughs or Kerouac we’ve grown accustomed to, the film is based on the murder that splintered the group.

It’s Columbia University of the mid 1940s. As World War II rages, young New Jerseyan Allen Ginsburg (Daniel Radcliffe) begins his life as a college freshman. He quickly falls in with the wrong sort. Thank God!

The film shadows Ginsburg along his journey toward self-expression by way of an infatuation with schoolmate Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan).

Carr introduces him to elder statesman/criminal element William H. Burroughs (Ben Foster), and later, to football playing senior and part time merchant marine Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston – of those Hustons). Together they alter their minds and begin a framework for a new world order for writers.

Carr also introduces Ginsburg to David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), whom Carr would later murder.

Though first time feature director John Krokidas has trouble deciding whether his is a coming of age tale or a murder mystery, and though he’s never able to clearly define the events’ connection to the actual writing that would eventually flood from these poets and scoundrels, he pulls together a competently crafted tale buoyed by well defined and tenderly animated characters.

Radcliffe’s growth as an actor continues to impress, as does his somewhat fearless choice of projects, but it’s DeHaan who steals the film. Damaged, vulnerable and seductive, he’s exactly the cauldron of conflict that inspires an artistic revolution.

Hall, Huston and Foster also impress as Krokidas throws light on some fascinating (if one-sided, fairly fictionalized, perfectly lurid) details of the spark that burst into the Beat Generation. They can’t quite transcend the limitations of a novice director and an under-focused screenplay, but they will compel your attention while they have you.




Wait a minute – Kristen Stewart can act?

By Hope Madden

It is hard to believe Jack Kerouac’s seminal buddy adventure On the Road has not been made into a film before now. It makes sense that director Walter Salles was the filmmaker to finally tackle it, since his The Motorcycle Diaries was sort of Che Guevara’s version of the same existential, cross-continental, life-defining trip. For Road’s Sal Paradise (the author’s alter ego), though, this trip ended in the birth of America’s Beat Generation (as opposed to Latin America’s interest in Communism). But still, you know, important stuff.

Paradise (Sam Riley), of course, strikes up a bond with enigmatic wild man Dean Moriarty, played by Tron: Legacy’s Garrett Hedlund and based on Kerouac’s buddy Neal Cassady. The rest of the tale sees the author outlining the interweaving lives, intimacies and inspirations of the various Beat writers, changing their names without truly concealing their identities.

While the entire cast has big shoes to fill, Hedlund is most challenged. Moriarty/Cassady presents a larger than life character to try to portray. Both Hunter S. Thompson (in Hell’s Angels) and Charles Bukowski (in Notes of a Dirty Old Man) depicted Cassady as a tragically beautiful, untamed spirit. Take note: if Bukowski and Thompson think you are wild…you, sir, are the real deal.

Hedlund strikes a nice pose, but he hasn’t the guts to pull the character off. High energy, good looking, a little damaged, but hardly the magnetic force of nature that inspired so many writers.

Riley fares a bit better as the artistically needy Paradise, and Twilight’s Kristen Stewart surprises the shit out of everyone by doing a fine job as young sexpot Marylou.

They’re joined by a host of excellent cameos, including Viggo Mortensen as Old Bull Lee (based on William S. Burroughs), and an especially nutty Amy Adams as his wife Jane (based on Joan Vollmer).

Salles makes the most of the cast he’s got, and his poetic way with a camera saturates the picture with a lovely, nostalgic quality. He mixes in frenetic party scenes, fluid road sequences, and enough  bongo and snare to remind us we are witnessing the birth of the beat. Still, having inspired countless other adventures, On the Road doesn’t feel too fresh, and Salles can’t uncover the vitality that fueled this landmark road trip in the first place.

He has crafted a very pretty film, competently assembled and pleasantly performed. Really, On the Road should amount to more than that.

3 stars (out of 5)