Cannes takes it On the Road
By Chris Knight
28 May 2012
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CANNES, France - It was a suitably long and winding road that led to Walter Salles' adaptation of Jack Kerouac's famed 1950s novel On the Road. Producer Francis Ford Coppola bought the film rights back in 1979 but it wasn't until Salles' involvement that the project began to gather steam. The results were unveiled Wednesday at the Cannes film festival, where On the Road is in the official slate of competition films.
Salles seems to have road movies in his blood. The Motorcycle Diaries, a critical hit that debuted at Cannes in 2004 and won the Ecumenical Jury Prize, is his story of a young, pre-revolutionary Che Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal) taking a motorcycle journey through South America with a friend.
The director saw clear similarities between the films. At the press conference for On the Road, he said both embodied "the very beginning of a social and political awakening, as two young men discover a physical and human geography that was foreign to them. It's about the loss of innocence. It's about the search for that last frontier that they would never find."
On the Road stars Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty, Kerouac's fictional version of his friend and fellow traveller Neal Cassady. A charismatic womanizer, he married one woman (played by Kristen Stewart), then left her for another (Kirsten Dunst), with whom he would have three children. Sam Riley also stars as Sal Paradise, the character Kerouac wrote as a stand-in for himself.
The film also features Tom Sturridge as a young Allen Ginsberg and Danny Morgan as fellow Beat poet Al Hinkle. Viggo Mortensen, who plays Old Bull Lee (a.k.a. William S. Burroughs), arrived at the press conference toting a Montreal Canadiens flag. (The Habs are Mortensen's favourite team and much of the film was shot in Montreal.)
Calling it his 100,000-kilometre movie, Salles said he spent years travelling and researching the Beat poets, a group he said "completely altered the face not only of North American culture but of culture in general."
Before filming began, he put his actors through a kind of boot camp (or Beat camp), where they studied filmmakers who had been influenced by the movement, watched documentaries on such jazz figures as Charles Mingus, and even met with surviving Beats or their widows and children. "We saw so many things, and then we tried to forget them all and create our own story," Salles said.
The film marks a departure for Stewart, still best known for her role in the Twilight movies, the last of which opens in November. In addition to On the Road being a much more serious film, the 22-year-old actor appears nude in a number of scenes.
"Obviously everyone who does scenes like that, the first thing they say is, 'Oh, I felt so safe, Walter put me in an environment that was very informed by the natural . . . ' But I love pushing. I love scaring myself. And to watch genuine experience on screen is just so much more interesting.
"I wanted to do it. I always want to get as close to the experience as I possibly can. As long as you're always being really honest there's nothing ever to be ashamed of."
Stewart, who has been acting since she was nine, was just 17 when Salles first approached her; this was before her Twilight years. "I'm very happy that I was able to age a couple of years before we shot the film," she said.
Mortensen, who famously over-prepares for every role, arrived on the set of On the Road with costumes, guns (Burroughs liked to shoot, and killed his wife while trying to shoot an apple off her head), a typewriter and other period props.
"You didn't bring the flag," Salles said, but praised him for his attention to detail, and said that any differences between the novel and the film are in the spirit of the Beat generation. "More than anything, Kerouac was looking for the constant improvisation, the cult of spontaneity, and this is what we brought to it."
Last edited: 25 June 2012 14:10:46
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