Is (minimal) techno gearing up for a neo-psychedelic, retro-1960s kind of phase? I certainly hope so!
This track by Italian producer DJ Tennis, with vocals by PillowTalk (of ‘Soft‘ fame), sounds like a combination of minimal and house beats with Beatles-esque psychedelic vocals. Not strange, since PillowTalk are from San Francisco. But this is a combination that I would very much like to see pursued further!
Wow, this is cool. Everyone who’s read Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Testor just knows a little bit about the origins of the 1960s counterculture knows that Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, while on their legendary LSD-fueled road trip from San Francisco to New York, taped the whole thing. In fact, filming it was sorta essential to the experience -- just like rigging the Furthur bus with all kinds of sound equipment was.
Now unfortunately, afterwards nothing was ever done with the film material. Until now. I’m pretty excited about this, because apparently, some people have gotten together and created a documentary about the 1964 Magic Trip based on loads of original raw material never seen before. This means that all those characters -- Kesey himself, Neal Cassady (the driver in On the Road and (!) the bus driver), Babbs, Mountain Girl, Ed McClanahan, Sandy Lehman, etc. -- are in there. And it’s in color too.
Wow. I wonder if the Merry Pranksters’ encounter with the other psychedelic pioneers of that time -- the East Coast based Harvard professor Timothy Leary and his followers -- is in it as well. Apparently, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg are in it too.
Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood’s MAGIC TRIP is a freewheeling portrait of Ken Kesey and the Merry Prankster’s fabled road trip across America in the legendary Magic Bus. In 1964, Ken Kesey, the famed author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” set off on a legendary, LSD-fuelled cross-country road trip to the New York World’s Fair. He was joined by “The Merry Band of Pranksters,” a renegade group of counterculture truth-seekers, including Neal Cassady, the American icon immortalized in Kerouac’s “On the Road,” and the driver and painter of the psychedelic Magic Bus. Kesey and the Pranksters intended to make a documentary about their trip, shooting footage on 16MM, but the film was never finished and the footage has remained virtually unseen. With MAGIC TRIP, Gibney and Ellwood were given unprecedented access to this raw footage by the Kesey family. They worked with the Film Foundation, HISTORY and the UCLA Film Archives to restore over 100 hours of film and audiotape, and have shaped an invaluable document of this extraordinary piece of American history.
If there’s one book ever that’s suited to be made into a movie, yet failed to see the light of day, it’s On the Road. Although some have tried, it never worked out.
This fall, however, finally an On the Road movie will hit theatres. And it looks promising. Not only is it directed by Walter Salles and Jose Rivera, known from The Motorcycle Diaries; the lead role of Sal Paradise (the autobiographical character of Jack Kerouac) is played by Sam Riley – the guy who played Joy Division’s Ian Curtis in Control! Garrett Hedlund will portray Dean Moriarty/Neal Cassady. Also featuring are Viggo Mortensen and (hm) Kirsten Dunst.
Of course, turning a classic with lots of fans like On the Road into a movie holds the potential for disaster – especially when the style and language in which it is written plays such a crucial role in a book. It must be possible, though, to adequately translate Kerouac’s free-flow stream of consciousness writing into cinematography.
It’s not the first recent movie about the Beat era, by the way – a while ago, Allen Ginsberg’s Howlwas made into a biographical movie too, which I still have to see. Prior to shooting, cast and crew of On the Road went on a three-week Beat boot camp to immerse themselves in the time period. Looking forward to this one!
Now, somewhat quietly, “On the Road” has finally been made into a movie. The $25 million production, shot in San Francisco, Montreal and other locales, is scheduled for release this fall.The movie is expected to be of keen interest in San Francisco where the Beats and their old hangouts are a cottage industry. Each year, thousands of people flock to North Beach to visit the City Lights bookstore and the bar Vesuvio or to gawk at Kerouac artifacts in The Beat Museum.
But with so much interest comes anxiety.
Adapting any beloved book for film is perilous and apt to irk fans, especially when it’s a literary classic where the language itself played a starring role — something not easily translated onto the screen. “On the Road” is particularly daunting since the provocative ideas that defined the novel — casual sex and drug use and a rejection of materialism — are unlikely to raise eyebrows with today’s multiplex audience.
The creative team from another counterculture road movie is leading the project: the director Walter Salles and the screenwriter Jose Rivera from the award-winning Che Guevara biopic “The Motorcycle Diaries.”
The cast is peppered with actors with box-office appeal, including Kristen Stewart of “Twilight” fame, Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams and Viggo Mortensen. The two male leads, characters based on Kerouac and his fellow flâneur Neal Cassady, are played by lesser-known actors, Sam Riley and Garrett Hedlund.
In July, before filming began near the primary sets in Montreal, the cast and crew went through Beat boot camp — three weeks of immersion with Kerouac experts.
One “drill instructor” was Gerald Nicosia, author of “Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac,” considered by many (including William S. Burroughs) to be the definitive Kerouac account.
None of the cast and crew were old enough to remember the Beat era, so Nicosia, of Corte Madera, approached the sessions as if he were teaching ancient history, “like I was bringing them the Holy Grail.”
He said the actors were especially intense, knowing they would upset a lot of people if they didn’t portray the characters accurately.
At the camp, Nicosia played an audio interview that he recorded in 1978 with Lu Anne Henderson, Neal Cassady’s young wife, on whom the book’s character Marylou is based. That conversation is also the basis of “One and Only: The Untold Story of ‘On The Road,’” a new book by Nicosia out this fall.
Concerns remain. Joanna McClure, a Beat poet who was immortalized as a character in Kerouac’s novel “Big Sur,” is curious about the new film, but said: “It was the writing that was so exciting. How do you make that into a movie?”
McClure also wondered whether today’s young movie audience, which she described as obsessed with “trying to get into corporations,” could grasp a story about shunning worldly possessions.
Yes, you read that correctly. Allen Ginsberg’s Howlhas been made into a movie.
Along with On the Road by Jack Kerouac, Howl stands as one of the greatest works of the 1950s Beat Generation. It features the same sort of stream of consciousness writing and themes (drugs, sexuality, jazz, alcohol) and beautiful hallucinatory imagery as On the Road does. There’s one particular reading by Ginsberg of Howl that is especially noteworthy, namely that in the Six Gallery in San Francisco on October 7, 1955. Here, a lot of Beat poets and writers were gathered, and the evening has been memorialized by Kerouac in On the Road.
Here’s the famous opening fragment (entire poem here):
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull,
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall,
who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York,
who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in Paradise Alley, death, or purgatoried their torsos night after night
with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and cock and endless balls,
The beatniks are frequently seen as the proto-hippies, setting the stage for the 1960s countercultural revolution with their scene and publications in the decade before. While any such historical causation suffers from being too simple, it is kinda true that Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters (the original hippies) later on thrived in the bohemian atmosphere in the San Francisco area created by the beat poets, and in their liberating, drug-fueled self-expression followed in their footsteps. Also, Allen Ginsberg (too old to be a baby boomer, like the hippies were) continued to hang out with Kesey and the Pranksters, and exerted a great influence on them (Kerouac rejected the hippies, however). This cross pollution is most evident in the character of Neal Cassady, who was a model for Dean Moriarty in On the Road, had a (sexual) relationship with Ginsberg, and was the one who drove the original Prankster bus from California to New York.
Anyway – pardon the digression, I love this stuff and it was great for me to visit the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco a few years ago, where all of this pretty much started – now Howl has been made into a movie. Definitively looking forward to it!
Howl may be the unlikeliest movie ever to come out of Sundance with national distribution: a translation of a poem—the substance, spirit, and cultural heft of a poem—into film.
The poem is Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”—written in 1955, published in ’57—and it’s probably hard for anyone born long after those years to grasp just what a cataclysmic impact that poem made (or perhaps any poem could make) not just on the literary world but on the broader society and culture.
Even many of those who have never read the whole poem know its white-heat opening lines: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,/ dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix. …”
It was an anguished protest, literally a howl, against the era’s soul-crushing conformism and a hymn to the holiness of everything about the human body and mind, splashed in verse that breaks free from standard meter but speaks instead in the long lines and jangling rhythm of natural breath and conversation, a style inspired by the expressive poets who went ignored in the ivory towers of high modernism—Whitman, Blake, Rimbaud*—fused with the urban syncopation of the bebop jazz that Ginsberg and his pal, Jack Kerouac, went to hear in the clubs of Harlem while they were students at Columbia in the mid-1940s.
Howl the movie doesn’t capture this entire milieu. Probably no 90-minute movie, shot in 14 days on a shoestring budget, could. But, as far as the film reaches, it’s an evocative, at times compelling portrait of an era and of the radical changes that some of the era’s spokesmen—Ginsberg included—foresaw, and to some degree galvanized.
Ginsberg gave his first reading of “Howl” at the Six Gallery in the North Beach district of San Francisco the night of Oct. 7, 1955, with what he later described as “a strange, ecstatic intensity”—his friend and literary soul mate, Jack Kerouac, who was passing around the jugs of wine, would refer to the event as that “mad night”—and the film re-creates it with a properly hushed thrill. James Franco, as Ginsberg, is stunningly spot-on. Not only does he look quite a bit like the young Ginsberg (before he went bald and grew the shaman’s beard), but he has his clipped mannerisms down perfectly and, more remarkable still, he reads poetry like a poet (something few actors do at all successfully), so much so that I wish the filmmakers would have just shown Franco reading during those scenes and not cut away now and then to a cartoon dramatization of the poem; the animation is too literal and distracts from Ginsberg’s language. (For more on the re-enactment of the reading, click here. For more on the animation, click here.) In real life, the reading caused a sensation—the image of the San Francisco Renaissance, a.k.a. the Beat movement, was pretty much created on the spot, and this part of the film lets you see why.
I’m pretty sure this is the reason we live in San Francisco: The chance that, on a random Tuesday evening, walking home from the neighborhood market, you might stumble upon a hilarious dollhouse outfitted to look like a weed-growing house proudly on display in the window of a nearby cafe. Said dollhouse will of course include Pee Wee Herman dolls, Star Trek action figures, a magic brownie-baking kitchen, and (so my eyes tell me) real marijuana clippings.