Walter Salles Evokes The Spirit Of Jack Kerouac In ‘On The Road’

“I’m prayIng that you buy On the Road and make a movie of it,” implored Jack Kerouac in a letter to Marlon Brando in 1957. The actor never responded, and it’s been more than half a century since, but the beat author’s seminal meditation on the youthful hunger for sex, kicks, and enlightenment has finally made it to the big screen.

Kerouac infamously wrote On the Road—his stream of consciousness tale about the search for identity as played out by Kerouac and co-conspirator Neal Cassady’s alter egos Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty— on a single, 120-foot scroll of taped-together tracing paper in just three weeks. But it’s taken more than 30 years since Francis Ford Coppola first bought the film rights to the novel in 1979 for a cinematic adaptation to be brought to life, courtesy of Puerto Rican screenwriter José Rivera and Brazilian director Walter Salles. Salles’ work has a simpatico relationship with Keroauc’s writing—an affinity for the open road as both an adventure and a new frontier for the mind. “When I first read On the Road, I was eighteen and had just entered university,” says Salles. “The book was so relevant to us because it had the magic of something we could not do in our country.”

“Here’s a generation that believed that in order to expand your understanding of the world, you had to live through the experiences that would heighten all your senses,” says Salles. “This was about living all these experiences in the flesh and not vicariously.”

Bringing the novel from page to screen has proven to be a challenge for writers and directors from Barry Gifford and Gus Van Sant to Joel Schumacher and Coppola himself—their attempts all thwarted before completing the transformation. When adapting such breathless prose for the screen, Salles recognized that, “like jazz, where the instrument is an extension of the muscian,” Kerouac had a writing style in which the typewriter was an extension of himself. In order to bring that vitality and energy to life, the film had to have an “impressionistic quality,” keeping the camera close to the actor’s body, aiming to connect the audience with the character’s experience. Salles says he only strayed from the novel in order to stay faithful to Kerouac’s sense of urgency. “We were all conscious that we needed to find something fresh and new every single day in order to be in sync with Kerouac,” he says.

Although Salles’ On the Road pays respect to the novel and captures the essence of Kerouac’s vision, there’s a gnawing dissonance between reading the author’s words and hearing them recited in a film. Reading On the Road is an intimate and thrilling experience, but an inevitable amount of magic is lost in the translation as it plays out onscreen. Despite the fact that the long and winding road to the novel’s cinematic debut satisfies our visual curiosities of the text, it raises the question: are some parts of the road better left unpaved?

Gene Kelly and Ten Other Dead Dudes We’d Totally Sleep With

My eyes were a little cloudy and heavy this morning when I got into the office, and I knew exactly what would perk me up: Google Image Searching Gene Kelly. Sure, some people would pick coffee, but some people would pick Gene Kelly. Right? That’s a thing that people do? Well, you should, because Gene Kelly was a handsome bro. I think even those who weren’t into dudes who hopped around on his toes and danced the nights away would be into him, because he basically looked like a linebacker who could also plié. And it got the gears in my brain a-movin’ and a-turnin’, and I started wondering: wouldn’t it be great if time travel were real and I could go back in time to have sex with Gene Kelly?

Look, let’s not get weird about this. You would, too. And you know what? I bet there’s a whole bunch of other now-dead people who were pretty attractive when they were alive. Here’s my list, and feel free to comment below with your own!

1. The Searchers-era Jeffrey Hunter

Sorry that the Comanche killed your parents, Martin, but you’re still hot so it’ll be OK!
 

2. A Streetcar Named Desire-era Marlon Brando

Goddamn those arms. I mean, bless those arms, but also goddamn those arms.

3. Rock Hudson in everything

You know? He might actually be game for this.

4. A Place in the Sun-era Montgomery Clift

This guy would probably be a handful, but there’s something really romantic about having to save someone, right?

5. Paul Newman in everything

THOSE EYES.
 

6. Hamlet-era Laurence Olivier

This one is kind of a wild card, but there’s something creepily sexy about that Aryan dye-job.
 

7. John Cazale in everything

Speaking of creepy! But Meryl Streep slept with him, and that’s a big endorsement as far as I’m concerned.

8. Midnight Express-era Brad Davis

Despite the history of sexual abuse, the drug use, the alcoholism, this guy was kind of a catch!

9. River Phoenix in everything

Duh.

10. Bullitt-era Steve McQueen

Don’t you think he’d treat you like total shit? Sign me up.

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Morning Links: Beyoncé Surprises Young Dancers, Elizabeth Olsen Earns Praise for New Trailer

● Not to detract from Barack’s week of winning, but Michelle’s “Let’s Move!” campaign is the best ever, right? For its most recent video, Beyoncé surprises some girls dancing to her “Move Your Body.” It’s officially cute. [YouTube] ● Khloe Kardashian seems to think using egg whites as lubricant can speed up the baby-making process. [HollyBaby] ● Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon have chosen particularly, uh, inspired names for their twins: Moroccan Scott, as in “the Moroccan-inspired decor of the top-tier of Carey’s apartment” and Monroe Cannon, after Marilyn Monroe, Mariah’s inspiration. [Huff Post]

● Elizabeth, the other Olsen, wooed Sundance this year, winning high praise for her two debut films. If the trailer for Martha Marcy May Marlene is any indication, the praise was well deserved. [Vulture/NYM] ● “Brando allegedly annoyed his traveling companions by insisting on stopping at nearly every KFC and Burger King they passed,” reports Vanity Fair of Marlon Brando’s unlikely escape from New York after 9/11. Those annoyed travel companions? Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson. [Vanity Fair] ● Three 800-pound bronze animal heads by Ai Weiwei were unveiled at the Plaza Hotel. The Chinese artist remains detained in his homeland. “Beauty and inspiration are irrepressible; they are alive in every human heart – in every nation – and wherever an artist creates Ai Weiwei is there,” mused Mayor Bloomberg, who was there for the occasion. [Metropolis/WSJ]

Links: Lady Gaga Cancels; Madonna’s 36-Year-Old Son

● Lady Gaga cements her status as a real pop star, cancels a show due to dehydration and exhaustion. [Perez] ● Two young South Koreans are the fastest texters in the world, having won a competition that required them to capitalize and spell properly, using no acronyms. So rly, u r tyl as good. [Daily Mail] ● Noah Cyrus contributes, admirably, to the burgeoning homemade ‘Tik Tok’ music video genre, despite knowing very few of the words. (They’re Tik. Tok.) [Buzzfeed]

● Does Madonna have a secret kid she gave birth to at 15? [WoW] ● Author Jackie Collins says she had sex with Marlon Brando when she was 15 and he was in his 30s. Does this mean we have start thinking of Brando as a perv? Don’t wanna. [Telegraph] ● What to do if you drink too much ‘tussin. [Morning News]

Links: Brando QVC Salesman, Cornish CK Babe, List-o-rama

● Ryan Phillippe’s lady love Abbie Cornish is the new face of Calvin Klein. [ElleUK] ● Shortly before his death, Marlon Brando wanted to sell goods on QVC for some extra cash…seriously. [IMDB] ● London designer Alice Temperley will show her next collection in all four fashion capitals. [ElleUk]

Spin magazine has their list of best music videos of 2008. [Spin] ● There is a God…the rumored Rosemary’s Baby remake is a no go. [TheMovingPicture] ● The Fandango Hot List shows who the public thinks will be the hottest stars in 09’. [PopCrunch]

Capote vs. Brando: Kids Are Alright

The most famous rule in all of filmmaking: Never work with kids or animals. But hell, I’m a maverick. And I can see Russia from my house.

The best thing about working with kids is that they don’t know the meaning of the word “pressure” — it hasn’t come up in their vocabulary lessons yet. And let’s face it — re-creating Truman Capote’s iconic interview of Marlon Brando is a lot of pressure. Adult actors, limited by what they’ve seen and what they know, would have broken out their best Brando impressions or tried their damnedest to rip off a Philip Seymour Hoffman performance. And nine out of ten of them would have collapsed under the weight of it all.

So for this installment of Icon Redux, we went younger. Much younger. Makes sense, if you think about it; there’s something indisputably childlike about Brando’s ramblings. We made some phone calls, sifted through some résumés, and dug up two kids well on their way to stardom who, thankfully, had no clue who Marlon Brando and Truman Capote were. They had seen nothing, knew nothing, had nothing in their own minds to live up to. Their innocence was refreshing. And their credentials were amazing.

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At six years old, Tyler Christopher Backer showed up at the NYCastings office fresh off a glowing review in the New York Times for his role in New York City Opera’s Madama Butterfly. And Spencer Harrison Hall had been Don Draper’s son on the Emmy-winning Mad Men before the series moved to Los Angeles. Spencer stayed east: “I don’t move for productions,” he said. “Productions move for me.” Okay, he didn’t say that.

Plus, they’re adorable. You just want to pinch their cute little cheeks, shake them violently, and yell, “Run! Run, as fast and as far as you can before the Hollywood machine sinks its talons into you and you end up staring at the ceiling during your third stint in rehab wondering what the hell it was you started doing when you were six!”

Sorry. Let me just brush that chip off my shoulder there …

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Okay, let’s bring the class back into this joint: Ahhh, Columbus Circle. There may not have been a more Brando-like place in all of New York to recreate this interview, which originally took place in a hotel in Kyoto, Japan during the filming of Sayonara in 1957. 6 Columbus is the Circle’s newest, hippest hotel, and like Brando at the height of his physical prowess, the hotel is an incredible site to behold, with a 1960s mod aesthetic tinged by a certain Zen minimalism (Brando had pretty firmly thrown himself onto the “Path to Enlightenment” by the time of the interview). The altitude, insulated windows, dark wood, and soft sunlight of the penthouse where we were shooting cast a hypnotic peace over those damn cars driving the endless loop of Columbus Circle 12 stories below, ignoring lane lines and traffic lights, blaring their horns and bullying the park-bound carriages as the horses drawing them pause to whinny and shit. Taken as a whole, Columbus Circle is a warring dichotomy, a gorgeous fuzzy blanket covering an omnipresent, pulsating chaos.

It’s Brando’s Zen incubating his ever-growing madness.

Of course, madness is a relative term. Some say two kids in a hotel penthouse surrounded by art and furniture more expensive than the entire production budget is madness.

But I call it maverick-ism. And where’s Russia? There it is!

Photos: Philip Buiser. Eyewear provided by Morgenthal-Frederic, NYC. Casting space provided by NYCastings.com.

Icon Redux: Truman Capote vs. Marlon Brando

Welcome to the second installment of Icon Redux — the video series from BlackBook and Two Penguins Productions that recasts famous (or infamous) moments in pop culture using contemporary performers and settings. Here, we re-create a seminal 1957 interview between twin eccentrics Marlon Brando and Truman Capote, where the rambling Brando refuses to let the normally loquacious Capote get a word in edgewise. The trick — in our version, set in a penthouse suite at Manhattan’s 6 Columbus hotel, Brando and Capote are portrayed by child actors Tyler Christopher Backer and Spencer Harrison Hall, respectively. Enjoy, and be sure to check out the screen tests for Capote and Brando (and the “Japanese girl”) and the behind-the-scenes commentary, plus the first installment of Icon Redux: James Dean.

Coming Next Week: Marlon Brando vs. Truman Capote

As promised by our screen test — next week, we’ll debut the second installment of Icon Redux, our original video series that recasts classic, iconic moments with breaking new talent. In this case, very new talent — the charming young fellows pictured here will reincarnate a famous interview given by Marlon Brando to Truman Capote. Instead of a suite at Kyoto hotel in 1957, our version takes place in a New York hotel penthouse in 2008, as rendered by the artistes at Two Penguins Productions. Watch for it Wednesday.

Coming Soon: Truman Capote Interviews Marlon Brando

For the next installment of Icon Redux by BlackBook and Two Penguins Productions, we’ll be re-creating a famous interview between eccentric wordsmith Truman Capote and legendary actor Marlon Brando — as portrayed by children. As a teaser, enjoy this collection of screen tests, where our aspiring junior thespians do Brando’s famous “STELLLLLAAAAA!” yell from A Streetcar Named Desire.

A Streetcar Named Desire Tickets