Sunday, 13 March 2011

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness

When I was 16 or 17, I read Jack Kerouac's On The Road for the first time.

Shamefully, I have to admit that I read it entirely because it was the 'cool' thing to do. Yes, I was that kind of teenager. I read it because to be able to sit on the train to Leeds reading Kerouac's classic American novel seemed like pretty much the most excellent thing I could do with my time. Yes, I may have been wearing clear lens wayfarer glasses whilst I did it. I may or may not have owned a straw trilby that year. I was a little (read: a lot) obsessed with Pete Doherty. Can you see why I would think that reading Beatnik literature was one step closer to eternal coolness?
The thing is...I kind of fell in love.

It was Dean Moriarty's fault.
On The Road's adventure catalyst, Moriarty was everything that I wanted to be. He didn't give fuck about anything, or, it seemed, anyone. He had as much fun as he wanted, whenever he wanted to. He was the embodiment of going with the flow. He was perfect.

Realising that I had stumbled across something quite special, I started inhaling Kerouac books at the rate that Doherty was then inhaling cocaine. The Subterraneans, Desolation Angels, The Darma Bums. And they all fitted together. They were all about Kerouac. It was gorgeous.That is how I discovered the Beat Generation.I'd heard of it, of course, because I am an educated human. I had just never looked into it. Allen Ginsberg, naturally, came next. I was never as big a Ginsberg fan as I was a Kerouac fan, but then again, I was never as big a poetry fan as I am prose. I read Howl and Other Poems and loved it, but I never really focused on it the way that I did with On The Road. Until now.For my final semester at univeristy, one of the modules I chose is Post-WW2 American Literature. During our seminar last Thursday, we studied Ginsberg's Howl and Kerouac's Big Sur in depth. In preperation, I went back and really focused on Howl. It kind of blew me away. It is such an intensely painful and obviously very personal poem to Ginsberg, so it is amazing really that he had it published. It is also stunning. The imagery, the phrases that he creates, the mindset he must have been in to write something so inherently bleak (drugs, drugs, drugs). Until, of course, you get to the footnote of the poem (which shockingly they didn't actually publish in our uni anthologies, so I'm certain that half the people on my course don't even know that it exists) where the entire tone and meaning of the poem switches to something tentatively bordering on hope. It is beautiful.I understand that not everyone will have read this poem. And it wasn't really the poem that I wanted to write about. It was actually the new James Franco film that I wanted to talk about.

James Franco plays Allen Ginsberg. Have you ever seen a sentence that is so full of good things? The film Howl is four small stories rolled into one, the first being the story of how and, crucially, why Ginsberg wrote Howl. The second is Ginsberg performing the poem for the first time in front of his friends and contempories. The third is a court hearing on whether the book should be banned for being obscene, and the fourth Ginsberg being interviewed around the time of the court case.

Because I am a bonafide geek, I have watched many, many videos of Allen Ginsberg performing his poetry on youtube, so when James Franco started talking in Howl, I freaked out. He sounds EXACTLY like him. It's eerie, it really is. And also absolutely astonishing.

If you can find a cinema that is showing this film, GO AND SEE IT. If not, try and see it some other way. It's magnificent.
Aaron Tveit and James FrancoPeter Orlovsky and Allen Ginsburg.

On the subject of films, they are also currently finishing off a film adaptation of Kerouac's On The Road. That in itself is a beautiful thing, but the fact that is stars Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and (I die a little bit with joy every time I think this) Garrett Hedlund, is an absolute dream. And Garrett Hedlund is playing Dean Moriarty. Congratulations to whoever cast him. I suspect that they snuck into my brain at some point and stole all my (slightly perverse and literature themed) dreams. I don't know when it's due to be released (possibly November?) but I can almost guarentee that it will be my new favourite film.


  1. Okay, so a few things went over my head in this post (I should probably start reading more!) but any film with James Franco is a film worth seeing in my book! :D

  2. He is AMAZING in it! You have to see it!

  3. I adore Jack Kerouac, he is one of my favourite authors and I can't bloody wait for the On The Road film! Not too happy about Kristen Stewart being cast as Marylou though, that just isn't how I imagine her in the book at all! Still very exciting stuff!!

  4. It's so strange, It's only in the last year that i've gotten into Beat poetry and now suddenly I'm seeing movies and blog posts about it everywhere! We could be on the crest of a Beat poet revival - fingersXcrossed


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