Friday, October 2, 2009

"the last time i committed suicide" movie review

after the disappointing "neal cassady" biopic, i added the "other" neal cassady film to my netflix queue. "the last time i committed suicide" is based on the legendary 17 page "joan anderson" letter that neal cassady wrote to jack kerouac in december, 1950. the letter, of which only an 8 page fragment survives, was the catalyst that broke kerouac free from his earlier writing style and launched his "spontaneous" prose. in fact, the original scroll version of "on the road" was written the following spring.

just as the contents of the joan anderson letter were less interesting to kerouac (and allen ginsberg) than the revelation of cassady's uninhibited writing style, so too did the plot hold less interest than the incredible atmospherics and intense period accuracy of the film! i loved watching the film unfold, mesmerized by the images and colors that just popped off the screen. the story, unfortunately, degenerated into a quasi-soap operatic chick flick. there was hardly any connection to the hard-edged, scheming cassady of real life.

the film, instead, portrayed the more angelic (sad, fallen angel more accurate) version of neal. thomas jane does a good job as film version (angelic) neal. there was a decidedly more sinister edge to the real neal, which isn't found (even fleetingly) here. it was surprising that keanu reeves got top billing for what was barely a supporting role - harry, the gruff pool hall buddy. he is a minor character, totally in the shadow of neal's two primary interests: joan, of course, and mary, for his wandering eyes.

the film ends, with joan (as, presumably, his first lost love?) out of the picture - forgive the pun - and neal is scribbling furiously, at what can only be, the emerging "joan anderson" letter. it left me less than overwhelmed, but satisfied because (fictional or not) the filmmaker stayed true to the letter - another easy pun - of cassady's work. it's an an incredibly well-constructed period piece.

1 comment:

J said...

Po' Neal and Jack.

Really, Neal was the original beat outlaw. Kerouac more of a failed intellectual--failing, at least academically, after he ran into Cassady, and the Columbia crew (Gins., Burroughs, etc). Cassady's meth-fueled prose might have been an influence, but Kerouac at first wrote in a Hemingway or FS Fitzgerald style--though Henry Miller's erotic-gonzo and french surrealists another influence.

The Kerouac of the 60s, burnt-out, alcoholic, sick, moving a bit to the right (and maybe his catholic roots) did not care for the "new" Cassady or the hippies much, from what I read. Tom Wolfe's "Electric Koolaid Acid test" also suggests as much.

Terry Southern may be the tightest and well-crafted of the beat kitties. Re-reading Magic Christian--intense, sort of like Voltaire on opium...

Really, I find some aspects of modern Beat, Inc. a bit unsavory--like using Kerouac to sell slacks, etc. Hollywood sure likes the beats, at least the dead ones--Kesey had no love for the Ho-wood dream factory, and objected to the treatment of Cuckoo's Nest.