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I saw "Neal Cassady" at the Woodstock Film Festival. Me and my wife Rita cruised over, figuring it would be bad bad bad-- but it was a slow night, so what the hell? I was very much unprepared for what I saw. I figured it would be just a standard bad biopic about the Beat legend Neal Cassady. It is not. It actually has a point(unlike the Cassady movie a few years back with Keanu Reeves.) Every scene seems to me to be about the trouble we can get into if we start believing in our own hype. The theme of movies runs throughout. It is a pop culture parable. My favorite scene has Neal Cassady (played poignantly and brilliantly by a beefed up Tate Donovan)leaving a matinée screening of "Rebel Without A Cause" and getting into his car. The score for Rebel continues over the images of Neal getting in his car-- a great and creative way of showing Neal's confusion(he thinks he is in the Jimmy Dean movie!) It's nothing less than tragic to see aging Neal still playing the part of Dean Moriarty in "On The Road." Whereas so often the Acid Test Bus Trip has been portrayed as a revolutionary fun party(and it certainly was, if you are an old hippie like me and remember it first hand) >>but here we have the party as seen through Neal's weary speed freak eyes. And what Cowboy Neal sees is a nightmare in which endless youngsters are constantly coming to him and asking him to act like a clownish Superman. He is trapped by an alter ego he and his best friend(Kerouac) created over a decade ago. The cast is great, although I think they could have been a little more dirty. The music is great (when did you think you would hear Don Cherry and Kitty Wells on the same soundtrack?) My only complaint is that the running time of the film was a little short and some of the locations felt budget and worst of all... NO GRATEFUL DEAD! NO JERRY! Other than those problems-- it is one of the best biopics I have seen in years.
The beat generation and the hippies of the sixties were important
social movements, but if they are not understood in the context of
their times, they appear to be merely the meaningless eruptions of
colorful angst-ridden adolescents..This film does not add any social
context around the behavior of Cassady, Kerouac, and Kesey. They are
prancing, exhibitionistic adolescents with Neal Cassady playing a holy
fool, a court jester, to the more articulate and productive Kerouac and
Kesey. He is an irresponsible guy driving a bus while stoned and caring
about, but abandoning, his family.
So does this merit a biographical film? The fictional Dean Moriarty would be a good film subject. he was the personification of rebellion against the structured family oriented pressures of the 1950s, and he said interesting things. This film makes it clear that the real Neal Cassady was not a Dean Moriarty-it is stated explicitly. Thus, we have a film about a goofy, not very interesting guy. Not a compelling subject.
Sure, Kerouac appears-and his role is well played and makes its points- but his is a small part of this film.. Kesey is portrayed as a bit of a hollow shell. So what? Why were they writing the things they were writing? What were they saying to America and why? All left out of the film. Thus it seems aimless and purposeless.
I wouldn't call this movie a biopic. More like an old fashioned moral
fable or a dime store story based on the later years of Kerouac's muse,
Neal Cassady. It shifts from pulp to poem to 50's melodrama to soap
opera to comic book style to realism. More than being about Cowboy
Neal, it's about mythology. And what happens to real people when myth
status is hoisted upon them. Like an episode of the Twilight Zone, the
answers to these questions come in all kinds of forms and often
Tate Donovan has never ever been this swinging. The rest of the cast is very stellar also. Like True Blood's Andy as Ken Kesey. And of course, Amy Ryan.
Glenn Fitzgerald wouldn't have been my pick as Jack, but he actually comes through by the end. He brings out more of the poet Jack, less of the lumberjack. Kind of like if Monty Clift had played Kerouac.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What an ambitious flick. In his runaway, best-selling novel of all
time, typed out on a continuous roll of toilet paper fifty-thousand
miles long, Jack Kerouac in the late 1950s established himself and his
character, "Dean Moriarty," as alternate-culture heroes. The drove fast
all over the country, smoked joints the size of cigars (in the 1950s),
listened to nothing but jazz, and wore themselves out having a good
time. Some people make history, some make the scene. And some manage,
somehow, to make both, as the Beatniks did.
The movie tries to capture some of this bullet-speed trip, and focuses on "Dean Moriarty," who was in real life a failed husband and father named Neal Cassady (Tate Donovan). Poor Kerouac wound up a pathetic drunk living with his domineering mother in a small Massachusetts mill town -- two bottles a day and a sweaty T shirt. But at least he left an original record behind. His novels and essays read like folds of cloth flung from the bolt. The hypomanic Cassady left little behind but his image. He segued neatly from Beatnikism to Hippiedom, driving Ken Kesey's bus full of Merry Pranksters from coast to coast, handing out LSD-laced kool aid from buckets.
It's a tough job, trying to get this down, especially on a small budget. Mostly we get to see Cassady during his period with Ken Kesey, and little of the ventures that gained him fame in the first place. The question behind the film seems to be, "How do you cope with fame?" Kind of banal. I suppose one thing you could do is settle down and take care of your family. Or you could ignore it and just do what you want, which is what the real Cassady apparently did. The movie shows him often in anguish, which doesn't seem true to his personal temperament. Cassady was stimulus-hungry, a man of action, and the last guy to torment himself with ontological questions.
Tate Donovan, as Cassady, is hard to evaluate. I get the idea he's trying to project -- Cassady as a constant talker full of hokum and hesitations -- but I also get the idea that he's trying to project that idea. I've never met Cassady but Donovan's performance strikes me as a nearly perfect Saturday Night Live imitation of Neal Cassady.
The other performers are up to the task. Chris Bauer fits the relatively quiet and innovative template of Ken Kesey established by Tom Wolfe. Glenn Fitzgerald has a good grip on Kerouac's later gloomy loneliness without overdoing it. Ye gods, I watched the real Kerouac on William F. Buckley's "Firing Line" make a fool of himself -- drunk as a skunk, giving the finger to a Hippie guest who adored him, and calling him a "commie pinko." But then none of the performances here are overdone, as they sometimes were by the historical characters themselves. Everything is kept within believable founds and the incidents we see are credible. That's fine, but it doesn't add much zip to the story, fragmented as it is. (I never thought I'd hear myself calling for more action in a contemporary movie. When "Die Hardest of All" or "Rambo: The Early Years" finally appear, it will fuse my synapses.) It's a strange movie about some strange times. It's only partially successful because it's hobbled by a small budget combined with the epic quality of its subject. How'd you like to make a movie about the creation of the universe with only finger paints and firecrackers available for special effects?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Neal Cassady" is a film for those so immersed in Beat Generation
personalities, one more film merely bears out consumption of all
available subject matter. It reveals nothing and does so in a manner
that leaves the viewer feeling burned. One could alternately imagine 80
minutes of raw snippets from Ken Kesey's film record of the Furthur bus
trip. ...A worthwhile metaphor incorporated in Buschel's film; lost in
the context of vignettes haphazardly suspended like ornaments on a
dessicated Christmas tree.
The film handily returns latent hipsters transfixed on 60s moonbeams to Earth. An end to which the director/writer succeeds with supererogation reminiscent of health class.
Self-destructive behavior paralleled Beat literature. Exploring the relationship between art and disaffected artist is a purpose this film glaringly avoids.
As much as the film parodies post-Beat Kerouac idolaters, it cannot redeem itself from the charge of exploiting their pitfall.
Some movies seem to slip through the cracks. This is one of them. The
main reason is probably because it is very low budget. But the
performances are great and the music is wonderful and the overall
feeling of the movie is fairly majestic. I would recommend this movie
over any other Beat film I've seen.
I honestly had no idea Tate Donovan could act, but I guess he really can. Amy Ryan is what we've come to expect. The writer/director's take on Cassady is very dark but from what I've read right on the money.
The top reason to see the movie is to see Glenn Fitzgerald's take on Jack Kerouac. Nice to see actresses like Shareeka Epps and Paz de la Huerta here and there.
Someone close to the Writer/Director must have written the review. It contains nothing objective, just positive, sweeping generalizations about style and content. Nothing negative. I'm not sure what the film seeks to clarify or state. It simply tries to visualize what Neal must have been going through after On The Road came out. From my understanding, Neal was a ball of energy. Nothing like that came out in the film, in fact quite the opposite. Neal was portrayed as pensive and unsure and occasionally cocky. If he were this way, then where is the explanation? If Neal was feeling anything compelling, the filmmaker failed to capture it for me. Why are we supposed to care about what happened to Neal beyond our own curiosity? This is just a bad film. Read Kerouac, forget this film.
This movie reeks.
It is a stinker.
As someone who found his way to "literature" through "the beats", this movie really let me down. It felt more like Beavis & Butthead.
I did not believe a single scene or a single syllable of it. I know I am being harsh, but if you are going to play beatnik icons, then you better do it right and you better know what you are doing.
I will say this, in order to be positive, they tried. All of them. Everyone involved gives it a shot, but it lacks authenticity. It is tough reaching for the impossible. It is hard to combine awesome poetry with massive drug use. Few actors could pull it off and these simply don't. Everything falls flat. All of it. One missed opportunity after another! There was a glory to their story and there was a sadness too. There is inspiration and depression, muses and despair, but this film floats somewhere in limbo not going anywhere.
I wanted to like it. I watched it hoping it would be what it just isn't.
I painfully await the movie version of ON THE ROAD. And beg the gods for mercy!
This movie was just downright awful. First of all, Tate Donovan's
acting had absolutely no depth. Instead, he spends all of the movie
making goofy faces, thinking that he is actually capturing Neal
Cassady. Secondly, this movie looked so low budget and did not capture
the whole hippy thing. Thirdly, the writing was terrible. It did not
explain very much or very well what happened to Neal Cassady after On
The Road was published.
This movie did not capture any of the spirit of Neal Cassady and the beat generation. It seems like the writer/director did absolutely no research. This is one movie that I am furious for having paid to watch. I want a refund!
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