What Happened to Kerouac

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Arts Documentary published by Shout Factory in 1985 - English narration

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Image: What-Happened-to-Kerouac-Cover.jpg

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This 96-minute documentary directed by Richard Lerner and Lewis MacAdams presents a fascinating portrait of Jack Kerouac, father of the Beat Generation and author of On the Road. Kerouac, a deeply creative and complex man, was ultimately unable to handle the instant fame thrust upon him in 1957 with the publication of On the Road, and he died a mere 12 years later at age 47. What Happened to Kerouac? includes archival footage of a young Jack Kerouac at the height of his fame as well as an older Kerouac damaged by alcohol but still perceptive, unconventional and interesting. Two noteworthy encounters in the film serve as bookends for the Kerouac legend: a young and vibrant Jack reading his work accompanied by Steve Allen on piano; and an older, inebriated Jack shortly before his death in a bizarre appearance on William F. Buckley's television program. What Happened to Kerouac? also includes memorable interviews with Beat writers William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gregory Corso as well as rare footage of saxophonist Charlie Parker and Beat legend Neal Cassady.

The film shows Jack Kerouac's unique creative process and rise to fame as a writer, while also shedding light on his turbulent personal life and his decline to an alcoholism-related death. Kerouac is the Beat Generation icon best known for his counterculture manifesto ON THE ROAD. He possessed unparalleled genius, but also suffered from uncontrollable personal demons that ultimately caused his demise. The film chronicles his chaotic yet fertile career in which he produced an astonishing number of novels and made history collaborating with artists such as Allen Ginsberg. The sometimes contentious relationship between Kerouac and author Neal Cassady factors significantly into the story. Cassady joined Kerouac on many of his road trips and unwillingly served as a character in Kerouac's literature. Kerouac never embraced the spotlight as his work fully consumed him. Instead, the film details how, through unsuccessful marriages, other relationships, and fathering one child, Kerouac yearned for a normal life.Archival footage illustrates some of Kerouac's most notable public moments, including a moving, harrowing appearance taped just a year before his death. Through intimate interviews with fellow authors, relatives, and friends, including entertainer Steve Allen, author William Burroughs, poet Allen Ginsberg, and ex-wife Edie Kerouac Parker, filmmakers Richard Lerner and Lewis MacAdams elicit a touching, well-rounded picture of this brilliant but troubled artist.


- If there were no Jack Kerouac, there would be no Beat Generation, for it was Kerouac's novel, On the Road, that earned him the title "Father of the Beat Generation." This documentary intercuts interviews with members of the Beats who knew Kerouac, live footage of Jack, and moody street scenes of San Francisco while Kerouac reads prose voice-over. The names of the interviewees read like a who's who of Beatdom: Allen Ginsberg and Anne Charters tell anecdotes and explain Kerouac's "spontaneous prose" style; Carolyn Cassady offers emotional insights; Gregory Corso sprinkles his philosophizing with the occasional f-word; and Jack's daughther, Jan, talks about how she first met her father. But to watch and listen to Kerouac read from On the Road, while Steve Allen plays soft blues piano in the backround, is worth the price of the film. The sound quality is crisp, the interviews insightful. This is an excellent program for public and academic libraries whose patrons want to know more about Kerouac and the Beats. Highly recommended. -

- WHATEVER one thinks of Jack Kerouac's work, more than 16 years after his death, his career continues to exert fascination. That may have less to do with his books than with his role as the inventor of the beat movement, which William Burroughs claims in What Happened to Kerouac? incited a worldwide unprecedented cultural revolution.

The documentary, directed by Richard Lerner and Lewis MacAdams abounds in insights into the French Canadian working-class boy who went on the road, found celebrity and drank himself to death. It consists largely of interviews, in exceedingly close close-ups, with Kerouac's best-known pals of the 1950's, including Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure, Gary Snyder and John Clellon Holmes.

A few of them prove better friends than critics as they compare Kerouac's spontaneous prose to Joyce, Wolfe, Whitman, Baudelaire and other formidable names. Mr. Corso, who is given a lot of attention, seems to be doing an imitation of Sid Caesar imitating a cracked scientist. The goofiness of the Corso segments is accentuated by a restless camera that may be trying to catch up with the vagaries of Mr. Corso's thought processes and an interviewer who has trouble getting through a question without resorting to like or you know.

But others, especially Mr. Ginsberg and Mr. Snyder, are able to look back on the time of the beats with humor and perspective. Kerouac's influence on his friends comes through strongly, and out of their recollections and those of his wife and daughter and others emerges a touching picture of a writer who labored a decade to attain success and then spent a decade being ruined by it, or ruining himself.

There are vivid vignettes. Mr. Ginsberg tells of finding himself involved with Kerouac and Kerouac's mother in a harrowingly hilarious night as mother and son tried to outcurse and outdrink each other. Kerouac seems to have been a mother case. Several of the women in his life tell of his powerful sexual and little-boy attraction, but as one remarks, He couldn't take care of anybody.

Interspersed in the interviews are clips from two television programs -The Steve Allen Show in 1959, not long after publication of On the Road, where the strikingly handsome young author read feelingly from his book, and Firing Line in 1968, a year before his death, with a bloated Kerouac sounding off boozily. As a politically conservative Catholic, he was especially bitter about the beatniks of the 1960's: A lot of hoodlums and Communists jumped on my back.

Kerouac's own readings of his work are artfully accompanied by impressionistic views of New York, San Francisco and Lowell, Mass., three cities that had a deep influence on him.

What Happened to Kerouac? is an affecting and illuminating memorial to a sad figure, who, as his wife remarks, left good memories. - By WALTER GOODMAN, N.Y.Times 1986

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[edit] Technical Specs

  • Video Codec: x264 AVC
  • Video Bitrate: 1 404 KB/s
  • Display Aspect Ratio: 4:3
  • Video Resolution: 704 x 544
  • Audio Codec: (Dolby AC3)
  • Audio Bitrate: 192 Kb/s 48000Hz
  • Audio Channels: 2
  • Run-Time: 1h 36mins
  • Framerate: 29.970 FPS
  • Number of Parts: 1
  • Part Size: 1.10 GiB
  • Ripped by DocFreak08

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