When Jack Kerouac’s On The Road became a smash hit among those people who find washing their hair an affront to their liberty as human spirits, snippy little gay writer Truman Capote opined that it wasn’t so much writing as typing. And there is a lot of typing in the film version. Furious late-night typing when the muse is present, with lots of smoking and maybe a baby crying across the hall, because we are talking starving artists here and only poor people have babies who cry.
The basic story of On The Road is that three people – a wannabe writer, a cunt and the cunt’s girlfriend, cunty herself – get in a car and drive. Without the benefit of car sweets. The great myth of the American road movie is, let’s face it, lots of time sitting in a car driving, with or without car sweets.
The hook is that we are supposed to be giddy in love with these three people, with their love of free jazz, their intellect (they cart the first book of Proust’s A La Recherche around with them like other people carry tissues), their free loving (even though Kristen Stewart can be in bed with two men and still not take her top off), their thievery (always from dirt-poor working class shop owners – nice!), their drug taking (as if they weren’t already boring enough) and pretty much every tired stereotype of crazy kids on the run cocking a snook (whatever a snook is) at authority. They are, to a man, knobheads.
We get a hint that the storytellers know this towards the end of a very long film when those crazy kids start running around on their pregnant wives (Wives! Very anti-establishment!), abandoning their friends while those friends are in the grip of a fever in third world countries and ditching people on the side of the road because they need to take a comfort break.
The book invented the stereotype of the “cool” social rebel that would become the Manson family, and which we see to this very day on the streets of Dalston: the self-involved, style-obsessed types we are still supposed to look up to in the modern shape and form of the likes of Pete Doherty; it’s a shame that the film, peopled with beauties with sparkling teeth despite the fact there is not a single scene where they’re not all smoking (crazy!), never sees through what is in fact wall-to-wall posturing.
Film review: On The Road,