Monday, October 21, 2013

Gathr Preview Series: Big Sur

I mention in my review that it's director Michael Polish (here working, for what I think is the first time, without his twin brother Mark being part of the film in any capacity) that drew me to the movie, although that's not exactly the case. As with everything else in the Gathr series, it was on the list, I'd purchased a membership, and while they're cheap enough that skipping one every month or so won't rip you off, I do try to get to everything.

Still, I did kind of keep missing and/or forgetting that it was a Polish movie until a week or two before the show. The poster had a big picture of Kate Bosworth and the copy talked up Kerouac, which only makes sense; they're much better-known than the director. Still, based mostly on Northfork, that's what got me kind of excited to get to the theater, even before a guest was announced.

BIG SUR producer Jim Sampas

That's Jim Sampas, executive producer of the movie, who I gather is local given how he seemed to know the Regent staff by name. The email announcing his participation mentioned that he was a sort of relative-in-law of Kerouac, and he had previously done a documentary on Big Sur, the novel.

It was an interesting Q&A; he certainly demonstrated plenty of enthusiasm for working with Michael Polish and the job he did, especially noting that Polish brought in a lot of the people he'd been working with since Twin Falls Idaho. I was impressed by that; it would have been easy for someone involved with the project from the Kerouac side to try and hire someone who would have worked with the existing script or just tried to put the picture that the producer envisioned on-screen, but these guys let Polish make a film that fits in his own filmography.

He also talked a little bit more about the process of getting to Polish than I necessarily expected, mentioning that the first script for the movie - apparently superseded enough that there's no WGA credit for it - was done by Donal Logue, who retains an executive producer credit. I kind of wonder what that would have been like, as I don't know if Logue would have directed, but he likely would have starred. That would have been a very different Kerouac, less the handsome writer than the alcoholic destroyed by his disease.

This week, it's Autoluminescent, a documentary about an Australian rocker. Good thing the World Series doesn't start until Wednesday!

Big Sur

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 October 2013 at the Regent Theatre (Gathr Preview Series, digital)

Mock me for my lack of appreciation for great literature, but my interest in Big Sur didn't come from it being an adaptation of a Jack Kerouac work. Instead, it was Michael Polish's presence as screenwriter and director that piqued my interest, and I suspect that the aspects I found most interesting come from Polish rather than Kerouac. Polish makes a striking film out of Kerouac's stream-of-consciousness ramble, if not always a penetrating one.

It opens with a quote from Kerouac, about how he is eternally 26 and hitch-hiking across the country in his readers' minds, when the reality is that of a worn-down forty-year-old. His friend Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Anthony Edwards) invites Kerouac (Jean-Marc Barr) out to his isolated cabin in Big Sur, California to unwind, and that may prove to be just what he needs. On the other hand, it also has him spending a fair amount of time in San Francisco with old friends, which involves a lot of drinking. In particular, he's reunited with Neal Cassady (Josh Lucas) and his wife Carolyn (Radha Mitchell). Neal introduces him to his mistress Billie (Kate Bosworth), who is immediately drawn to Kerouac, and there's basically zero chance that the bonds of affection between every pairing from that quartet aside from Carolyn & Billie will just result in the group being pulled closer together.

That description somewhat soft-peddles the alcoholism, but that's somewhat inevitable for the same reason that alcohol abuse is problematic as the subject of a story: For all that it's a very real, destructive thing, it's a mundane enough sort of affliction as to be boring. There's nothing shocking about watching someone drink, and Kerouac doesn't prove to be violent when drunk, just selfish when not turned introverted and weepy. Being Kerouac, he's able to churn out more noteworthy self-pitying prose than the typical drunk, but there inevitably comes a point when watching somebody else drink seems like it may not be a productive use of the viewer's time.

Full review at EFC.

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