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The Beats Come To the Big Screen

Updated on May 1, 2014

The American West is filled with some spectacular highways

Monument Valley seen from the north
Monument Valley seen from the north | Source

The Beats Hit the Big Screen

Though "On The Road" has remained a classic piece of beat literature, modern filmmakers have shied away from trying to put the popular novel onto film. This is all about to change as a screenplay, written by Jose Rivera, was recently been put into production by a consortium of production companies that includes MK2 Productions, Film4, SPAD Films (executive producer) and VideoFilmes. 25 million has been spent on the movie, which is now slated for release in December 2011. Leading roles are played by Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Sturridge and Viggio Mortensen. The storyline for this film adaption is very simple; it follows Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady on a series of automobile treks across America and into Mexico during the years immediately following WWII.

Long Delay

When Jack was alive, he wanted Marlon Brando to play Neal Cassady, while the author portrayed himself on film. Negotiations for film rights actually occurred, but the agent kept the price high and the deal never went down. In 1979, ten years after Jack died, Francis Ford Coppola bought the film rights to the novel, but it has taken another 30 years to put the movie into production. During this time, the number of screenwriters that have attempted to put the story into a screenplay is surprisingly long, even including Mr. Cuppola and his son Roman.


The breakthrough in putting together a usuable script came when Coppola saw the movie “Motorcycle Diaries”, which revolves around the overland journey of the great revolutionary, Che Guervara through South America. From this successful movie crew came both the screenwriter, Jose Rivera and the director, Walter Salles, who will try and utilize what they learned from making the Latin American travel saga into this American movie picture. Surprisingly, most of the story will be filmed in Montreal, New Orleans, Arizona, Mexico, Argentina and Chile.

Documentary Counterpart

For diehard Beat literature fans, the filmmakers have not overlooked Kerouac's Zen-poetic-yearning to cross as many American byways as possible. While the main movie concentrates on the interaction of the two main characters, their friends and wives, a parallel documentary will be made about crisscrossing the U.S. by auto. This project was also carried out in the past year and the results will be released after the feature film hits the theaters in December. The documentary may well end up exploring Kerouac's jazz-writing style and linking it to the power of an internal combustion engine moving down an asphalt highway at a high rate of speed.

More Films About the Beats

If “On the Road” is successful, expect to see more feature films made from the writings of the Beat Writers. For years, Beatniks have been portrayed by Hollywood as goofy and mindless neer-de-wells, but with the coming of a variety of screenplays derived from the 50s literature of Kerouac, Burroughs, Cassady and Ginsberg, film goers may get a chance to glimpse the other side of the coin. Stay tuned for the cinematic results could get very interesting.

portrait of Jack Kerouac

Kerouac in 1959
Kerouac in 1959 | Source

Kerouac's Florida House

Jack Kerouac house in Winter Park, Florida
Jack Kerouac house in Winter Park, Florida | Source


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