Today, the house in which William S Burroughs received a visit from Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassidy in 1949 in Algiers, a suburb of New Orleans, is all spruce, surrounded by newer houses. Nothing to do with the large hut with vernadas that was threatening to collapse as Kerouac described it in On The Road.
Three years ago, when they were first attempting to bring the book to the screen, Walter Salles and producer Rebecca Yeldham found the Magnolia Lane Plantation, the Mississippi loop just before Algiers would make a nice home for Old Bull Lee and Jane (Burroughs and his partner Joan Vollmer.) The veranda that runs around the house was threatening to collapse so it had to be strengthened in order to support the team (100 people) and equipment of On The Road, the movie.
The house is guarded by Ronald Samuel, an old man with blue eyes who speaks Cajun. Magnolia Lane Plantation is haunted. Ghosts await the departure of the team, which is taking up all the space. That said, we must admit that we could have mistaken Amy Adams for a spectre. Arriving on the set, our view was of a pale woman, disheveled, holding a broom in one hand, talking, scary and painful to see. She stars as Jane, a mother who is an addict and an insult to the feminine ideal that was in force in the United States after World War II.
In the half-light of a living room that hovers between a writer's hideout and playground but finally results in a shambles, I catch a glimpse of Viggo Mortensen, slumped in an armchair, a holster at his side, a child sleeping on his chest. The sleeping child makes it necessary to be silent, even between the takes.
There is also a little girl with dirty hair and arms covered with bite marks. It's make-up, of course. The precise circumstances of the encounter between Burroughs and the travelers has been established by Barry Gifford in his Book of Jack. Walter Salles will take into account the truth behind the fiction of On The Road, while allowing himself as much freedom as Kerouac granted himself. Tomorrow, Wednesday, Old Bull Lee will have fun shooting a gun in his garden, rather than throwing knives, as is written in the novel.
Viggo Mortensen, whose character is stupefied by an injection of heroin, remains a distant presence for the observer, who can barely see him on the small video monitor. So instead the star of the day belongs to Elisabeth Moss. The young actress has escaped for a few days from the Mad Men series to play the neglected wife, Galatea Dunkel, who Old Bull Lee and Jane have grudgingly taken in, after she was abandoned by Ed Dunkel (the British comedian Danny Morgan) on the advice of Dean Moriarty. Elisabeth Moss repeated the scene a dozen times, from different angles, an indignant tirade, varying from vengeful anger to self-pity.