CANNES May 23 The Bible of the Beat Generation,
"On the Road" premiered at Cannes on Wednesday, taking more than
five decades for the frenetic tale of liberation, masculinity
and post-War America to play out its journey from novel to the
Furiously written on a typewriter over a three-week long
creative binge in 1951, Jack Kerouac's On the Road is the
seminal portrayal of "Beat" culture and its spiritual quest for
The film version from Brazilian director Walter Salles
("Motorcycle Diaries") strives to capture the energy and
drug-fuelled stream of consciousness of the original book.
Salles is helped by the casting of British actor Sam Riley
as protagonist Sal Paradise, a stand-in for Kerouac himself, and
U.S. actor Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty, who represents the
real-life Neal Cassidy, a symbol of American virility and poster
child for living in the moment.
"The only people who interest me are the mad ones," Paradise
writes, and Moriarty fits the bill. The charming, adventurous
con man becomes Paradise's alter ego, and their closely bonded
friendship plays out across a series of road trips.
"It's about the loss of innocence, it's about the search for
that last frontier they'll never find," Salles told reporters in
Cannes. "It's about also discovering that this is the end of the
road and the end of the American dream."
Kristen Stewart of "Twilight" fame plays Moriarty's young
wife Marylou, Kirsten Dunst plays second wife Camille and Viggo
Mortensen takes a turn as Old Bull Lee, who is based on William
Salles said he and the team had "enormous respect for
Kerouac" which helped drive the process from the time Francis
Ford Coppola bought the film rights to the book in 1979.
The idea of making On the Road into a movie languished
"until Walter raised his hand and said I think I can make this
movie," said Coppola's son, Roman, who is a co-producer. "It
took 30 years but it was such a natural fit with Walter."
Early reviews were mixed. Forbes' Roger Friedman wrote that
scriptwriter Jose Rivera managed to capture "the travel, poetry,
"It's the interior lives of the characters that suffers.
Salles has filmed the book faithfully. In doing so, it's as if
we're observing 'On the Road' rather than experiencing Sal's
adventure. This will frustrate critics and Kerouac scholars."
British newspaper The Telegraph called the film a "tedious
loop of beatnik debauchery."
Drugs, sex and jazz are central to On the Road, as the lead
characters' quest for freedom of body and mind take them to
black jazz clubs, flop houses, migrant camps and rail depots.
"A road movie I think is what made me into a filmmaker and
I'm very loyal to it," Salles told the press.
He said he found parallels between Kerouac's search for
inspiration through jazz and bebop as he wrote his novel in an
improvisational style and the job of the director.
"You always have to be on the lookout for what you find
along the way, it's a way of creating fantastic images."
Salles' camera captures America's vastness - and the promise
of something new around the corner - from the lights of New York
to the hills of San Francisco and the long expanse of flat road
and endless sky in between.
But as the sun fades on the brief and bright explosion of
the characters' lives, age and responsibility intrude.
"This high we're on is a mirage," character Carlo Marx tells
Paradise and Moriarty.
For a look at Cannes' 2012 lineup, click here:
(Reporting By Alexandria Sage, editing by Paul Casciato)