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Leo is a 28 year old writer who doesn't have any friends because he finds normal people too shallow and so he hasn't found love. After an arguing with his mother he leaves into the night where he accidentally meets a group of poets, artists and philosophers who drag him to a subterranean bar where Yuri, a vagabond poet, introduces him to Mardou a beautiful blonde girl. Leo goes with the young beatnik group to every subterranean bar in San Francisco. Immediately Leo and Mardou fall in love with each other and he promises her a life together forever but their love starts to strangle Leo's ability to write. One night, out of rage, Leo snaps and has an affair with Roxanne. Mardou disappears for four days because she thinks Leo is very childish, which takes Leo to heavy drinking until she re-appears with the news that she's pregnant and they declare their love with each other by leaving the new bohemian group to be alone and start a normal life together. Written by
Barry Miles, in his 1999 biography "King of the Beats", claims that "Subterraneans" author Jack Kerouac suffered from an Oedipal complex in which he replaced his father Leo as his mother's faux-"husband". Kerouac always returned to his mother Gabrielle (called "Memère") after his adventures, and wound up living with her permanently after the success of "On The Road" gave him enough money to buy a house. Kerouac's friends, such as William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg were aghast that Jack was bound so tightly by his mother's apron strings, thinking it kept him emotionally retarded. He failed to have a deep, lasting relationship with any of his wives or any other woman (his last wife, Stella, was described by most as being a kind of household slave abused by both Jack and "Memère"). Kerouac defended himself, saying he made a solemn oath to his father Leo on his deathbed to take care of his mother, though it was unlikely he meant that Jack should forgo having a stable marriage of his own and live with "Memère" for the rest of his life. On her part, Memère kept Kerouac infantalized, with his own blessing: She opened his mail and forbade certain of his friends from visiting her home (and Jack's home), such as Ginsburg, who had known him all their adult lives. After reading Jack's mail, Memère would send poisonous letters to Ginsburg and others, including Jack's girlfriends, which Jack defended. Burroughs became so disgusted he terminated his friendship with Kerouac. On his part, Miles points out that Kerouac was well aware of his Oedipal problem. Kerouac named the character modeled after himself in The Subterraneans (1960) "Leo Percepeid." Leo is his father's name, and Percepied translates literally to wounded (or "pierced") foot. Oedipus, as a baby, was ritually wounded on the foot and left to die before being saved, then growing up and slaying his father and bedding his mother. See more »
Our town changed hands six times. My mother changed hands more often than that.
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Great music but a one-dimensional caricature of the Beats
I just viewed this film for the first time. Janice Rule and Leslie Caron are excellent given the superfluous material; George Peppard is stiff and unconvincing.
If you take this film literally, the Beats represented party-loving, self-serving hedonists, rebelling against society with no particular purpose. In fact, the Beats and their literature provided a needed counterpoint to the conformity and staid complacency of American life in the 1950s. They were the forerunners of the Hippies, for sure.
Despite a shallow story line, the film is of historical interest as to how Hollywood (and maybe mainstream America) viewed the Beat generation in 1960, when the film was released.
The music is absolutely marvelous - it's great to see and hear jazz giants like Gerry Mulligan (also in an acting role), Art Pepper, Art Farmer and Shelly Manne.
A true period piece, worth seeing - once.
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