Friday, August 17, 2007

On the Road

Jack Kerouac’s On the Road turned 50 the other day. When I worked at the Museum of Broadcast Communications we had a great clip of Kerouac reading On The Road on the Steve Allen Show as Steverino made a little jazz piano behind him. Can you imagine Jonathan Franzen or Dave Eggers appearing on Letterman reading as the band just played a groove behind him? It’s a different time.

But this blog is about film, and of my favorite sub-genres of film is the road move. (I am apologizing to my dad now because there will be no discussion of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby- and the film where Bob Crosby suddenly appears in the jungle because Bing promised him a role in the film. Great films, but not on topic.)

I often say to students, metaphorically, that the audience really wants a road map to where your film is heading. While not explaining everything, they do want to know where they are going once the film begins. The road film provides just that. We, the characters, the audience, the crew, everyone are going from point A to point B and we will meet new people and see new things along the way.

The other thing a good road film does is expose us to who we really are. Much like it took a French man, Alexis de Tocqueville, to write the definitive book about America’s first century, an outsider’s perspective to a culture is very valuable. All of this leads me to the definitive road film of my youth, Easy Rider.

Today Easy Rider is a relic of the 60s, both in its content and in its style, but it captures the zeitgeist of the times. Simply put, Captain America and Billy sell a pile of cocaine to crazy Phil Spector and set out across the country to find themselves. Along the way they go to a hippie commune, meet Jack Nicholson, a drunk lawyer from Texas, get harassed by rednecks for their long hair, take acid in New Orleans and come to an understanding that perhaps the American Dream isn’t what they thought.

The cinematographer of Easy Rider, Laszlo Kovacs, died a couple of weeks ago. He felt he learned a lot about America by shooting that film and going on the road with Fonda, Hopper, et. al. He said his biggest contribution to the film was to bring the perspective of a foreigner to the picture.

Here are a few of my other favorite road films.

The Wizard of Oz
Lost in America
Smoke Signals



Anonymous said...

You missed the line in the Bing and Bob picture Bob says who's that and bing says that's my brother Bob I promised him a SHOT in this picture. Not a role! Maybe no one else is old enough to remember that,


mrliteral said...

As much as the idea of a road movie appeals to me (I have an old treatment and a third of a script laying around somewhere), I just glanced through my DVD collection and didn't really find much of the genre. I think of Little Miss Sunshine as kind of a road movie. I suppose Road to Perdition is about a journey, but not the way Easy Rider is. Of course, the best movie about the journey and its destination is Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Hey wait; does The Muppet Movie count? It's on my wish list of movies to buy...

PeterH said...

You are right on about Little Miss Sunshine. Coincidently I saw it again yesterday before I read your comment and thought, I forgot one. Also, right on about Planes, Trains and Automobiles. John Candy was really under rated and under utilized. His daughter is now at Second City.


John Murray said...

I love the simpe idea of films as journeys as mrliteral points out and you explain in terms of the writers, cast, and crew making the film in the first place. It ties in beautifully to the notion that behind every narrative film is another story worth telling—the doc making of.