Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty, impulsive drifter based on Beat Generation figure Neal Cassady
New York to San Francisco, via New Orleans, Winter 1949
Film: On the Road
Release Date: October 12, 2012
Director: Walter Salles
Costume Designer: Danny Glicker
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Yesterday was the 65th anniversary of when On the Road was published on September 5, 1957. Jack Kerouac’s seminal Beat Generation novel had been years in the making, beginning with his continuous, single-spaced 120-page “scroll” that he typed across three weeks in April 1951, almost immediately after returning from the last of the book’s depicted travels.
With the coming of Dean Moriarty began the part of my life you could call my life on the road. Before that I’d often dreamed of going West to see the country, always vaguely planning and never taking off. Dean is the perfect guy for the road because he actually was born on the road, when his parents were passing through Salt Lake City in 1926, in a jalopy, on their way to Los Angeles.
Though Kerouac hardly shied away from including seedier details of his friend’s life, On the Road became something of a hagiography centered around Dean Moriarty, the alter ego he developed for his real-life pal Neal Cassady. With the same excitement of the Dexter Gordon, Lionel Hampton, and George Shearing performances they celebrate, the impulsive Dean steals the spotlight much as he and his fellow travelers steal to support their travels, or offset “the cost of living”, as they rationalize.
Despite considerable interest—including from the author himself—in cinematic adaptations, it wouldn’t be until more than a half-century passed that cameras would finally roll on bringing On the Road to the screen. Francis Ford Coppola had held the rights since 1979, holding on through decades of development hell until the artistic critical success of The Motorcycle Diaries encouraged him to hand over the reins to director Walter Salles and writer José Rivera. Salles again collaborated with cinematographer Éric Gautier, whose photography brought mid-century America back to life across the small towns, sandy deserts, and snowy hillsides that resisted generations of change.
Garrett Hedlund’s appropriately kinetic performance as the dangerously charismatic Dean also emerged as one of the strongest aspects of Salles’ On the Road adaptation, with Owen Gleiberman writing for Entertainment Weekly that “the best thing in the movie is Garrett Hedlund’s performance as Dean Moriarty, whose hunger for life—avid, erotic, insatiable, destructive—kindles a fire that will light the way to a new era.” Continue reading