Friday, September 18, 2009

"neal cassady" movie review



Last night I watched the Sundance Channel premiere of “Neal Cassady” - an ostensible biopic of the legendary beat generation muse, Neal Cassady. The film was an incredibly frustrating disappointment. Luckily, it was only 80 minutes long, and entirely forgettable. For a huge fan of the beat generation - in all its varied guises, watching a film so riddled with inaccuracies was a painful experience, in and of itself. As a film, “Neal Cassady” failed to capture any semblance of the seriously flawed man who was mythologized in the works of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

Within seconds of the film’s start, the inaccuracies started: opening with Kerouac in the dressing room, waiting to go on what was, presumably, the Steve Allen show, he’s approached and seduced by a fan. That may have been artistic license, but seconds later he’s on the set and asked by the interviewer, presumably Steve Allen, about his new movie, “The Subterraneans” and asked to read from it. Not to carp on details, but that book hadn’t been published when he appeared on the Steve Allen show (and far from being made into a movie, which itself was a grotesque shadow of the novel - only sharing the title, in fact).

That opening sequence, so utterly ridiculous, pointedly showed how little the filmmaker, Noah Buschel - who wrote and directed the film - understood of his main characters! Kerouac appeared on the Steve Allen show and read from “On the Road.” But, more significantly, he then went on to read passages from “Visions of Cody” - surreptitiously! Kerouac, at that time, believed he had moved on from his prose style of the “Road” novel, and more intensely captured the “real” Neal Cassady in his experimental prose work (“Visions”). The symbolism of Kerouac’s actual appearance and reading could not be more apt to kick off the film!

More glaring factual mistakes are just downright carelessness - last I checked, Neal and Carolyn Cassady had THREE children, not the just two! But to revisit the road trip Keroauc and Cassady took, Buschel had Neil tentatively asking some jaded pool hall denizen if he knew Neil’s dad (an out of work alcoholic, to put it mildly). Cassady never did things that tentatively - it contradicted the very essence of his being. Watching that pitiful exchange on film was the second realization in the first 10 minutes that Buschel had no handle on his character.

The film is barely 80 minutes long. The bulk of that time is spent on Cassady’s interaction with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. By that point in Neal’s life he was a shell of his former self - and the beat generation had long since faded into history, replaced with the flower children of the 1960s. Neal Cassady is all the more interesting because he was a bridge between two generations. He found himself immersed in Kesey’s “Electric Kool Aid Acid Tests” and became the official bus driver for “Further” - on their cross country travels!

A lot was left out of this film - obviously there is not enough time in 80 minutes to tell the full story! It left out the explanation of his arrest for marijuana possession (and Kerouac’s guilt over what he believed was the intense focus on Neal brought on by his portrayal of him in “On the Road”). And there was no mention of the Grateful Dead? The Dead were the house band at Kesey’s Acid Tests, so I was very surprised at that omission. The Grateful Dead’s “Cassady” honors Neil’s memory.

This film does not (and it also prompted a deservedly bitter response from Carolyn Cassady).
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for a good film on the early neal, check out "the last time i committed suicide."

13 comments:

Lou Crone said...

The opening scene was not supposed to be about Steve Allen. If you looked at the credits, you would have seen that. The TV host was played by an actor named Tony Arkin-- he was obviously not supposed to be Steve Allen. So why do you keep talking about Steve Allen? That opening scene was an invented scene.

I love it when people freak out over liberties taken in biopics. Like there being two kids instead of three in Cassady house. It's a MOVIE. Not a documentary. Facts are changed all the time.


The last thing I want to say is that it is you who has no handle on Neal Cassady's character. I loved this movie, which I too saw for the first time last night. It didn't turn Neal into Dean Moriarty. I think the whole point was to show Neal sometimes being quiet and shy and not speedy. That is why the Dean Moriarty portrait hurt him so bad. Because it was an exaggeration.

It does not surprise me that Carolyn Cassady didn't like the movie. Nor does it surprise me that you, an obvious sycophant, didn't like it.

rundangerously said...

sorry you find the review disappointing...

you seem to be very hung up on what other people think about the film. especially if they don't agree with you.

if you haven't heard of steve allen, take the time to google him. you might enjoy seeing kerouac's appearance on his show.

Lou Crone said...

Of course I have heard of Steve Allen. You crack me up. I am 67 years old. I live in San Fran. I knew Corso very well.


The Beats were never meant to be kowtowed to. They were meant to be challenged. In challenging them, one honors them. That is what someone like yourself doesn't understand. Kerouac and Cassady were tremendously sad and tragic guys. You want to have them celebrated, but perhaps a celebration of them means telling their tragic stories.

rundangerously said...

as a friend of corso, the use of "the subterraneans" might have made you wonder if buschel was up to the task at hand.

that particular novel was about kerouac's relationship with corso - and had absolutely nothing to do with neal cassady.

i think little details like that matter.

Lou Crone said...

There was no use of Subterraneans. Tony Arkin's character mentioned that a movie was coming out of Subterraneans and then Kerouac read from "On The Road." So what are you talking about? You don't even know what you are saying.

I don't have any more time to dwell on this blog, but I must say that maybe you should get your facts right before you go on the attack. This is a great example of the problem with blogs.

rundangerously said...

you may want to relisten to the dialogue a bit more carefully.

the allen character introduced the material kerouac read from as "the subterraneans" and noted it was coming out as a movie. that too (the movie release date) was also factually inaccurate.

you've spent an incredibly amount of psychic energy trying to prop up this film. you must really be in love w/it.

as for attacks... the only attacks here come from your rude little asides (which have nothing to do w/the film or review thereof).

why don't you write up your own review of "neal cassady" and post it for our benefit?

Anonymous said...

I just rented this movie on Itunes, watched it twice. Kerouac character does not read from The Subterraneans. Lou Crone is right.

Interesting film.

rundangerously said...

anonymous, did you happen to notice how the steve allen character introduced what kerouac read from?

Anonymous said...

"and now you're going to read to us a little from on the road?"

i'm watching it right now.


the subterraneans is only mentioned as a book he had written that had been made into a movie. it makes sense to reference that book, to show how misinterpreted and dumbed down the beats were. also, subterraneans movie came out around 1960, not long after on the road was published. so kerouac would still be reading from on the road in 1960. none of that is factually incorrect.

and the character is not steve allen.

rundangerously said...

if you want to insist that's not steve allen, and kerouac reading on his prgm, that's your opinion.

kerouac appeared on allen's prgm in 1959 (and allen was a huge fan of jack's). the subterraneans was released in 1960. kerouac refused to participate in any publicity for the film - and hated the movie that was made (it had hardly any connection to his book).

Anonymous said...

it's not an opinion. it's simply not steve allen. read the end credits. the actor anthony arkin is playing george ambrose. perhaps it is a conglomerate character based on allen, buckley and dozen other talk sow hosts kerouac sat down with.


subterraneans: i already said what you said. the movie of the book is mentioned probably to show how out of touch mainstream america was in their understanding of beat culture.

you could admit that your original post was untrue. no steve allen, and no reading from subterraneans.

for anyone who has an open mind, check out neal cassady. it is an interesting, if low-budget take on neal.

rundangerously said...

george ambrose is a fictional character for purposes of the film. he represents the real world steve allen in what was a real world interview of jack kerouac.

if you don't like this film review that's your opinion.

if you don't like the facts of jack kerouac's life - or neal cassady's, for that matter, take it up w/them.

Sam said...

I was wondering what the last quote that kerouac said in the film when he was in the back room. what was it that he said to the young woman. it was a very interesting quote i still think of occasionally