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"One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Kerouac's Big Sur" examines Jack Kerouac's escape from post "On The Road" fame to his dream of an isolated retreat in a cabin at Big Sur where he searches for inner peace. His road comes full circle with this self-exploration, resulting in an alcohol-fueled paranoia and a plunge into madness. Written by
This documentary consists mainly of interviews with about thirty people. The focus is on Kerouac's book, "Big Sur," which he wrote in 1961, a few years after having spent time in the area. Several people read passages from the book. Not having read the book, I am not sure this movie has encouraged me to do so, since the passages seemed to be a stream-of-consciousness description of an alcoholic hell and nervous breakdown.
The portrait of Kerouac that emerges is that of an anguished, self-centered, confused man and one who would be difficult to be around. You would have to have a large reservoir of tolerance and forgiveness to put up with him I think. And that is what everyone interviewed here seems to have, since there is nothing expressed about Kerouac but warmth, admiration, and sympathy for his suffering. Most people flee an alcoholic spouting stream-of-consciousness thoughts that are hard to decipher, so, Kerouac the man must have had real charisma, an appeal that has persisted all these years within a subculture of followers.
The ideas of the beat generation of writers and poets--drugs, sex, freedom, anti-materialism, eastern religion--laid the groundwork for much of what was to come. No matter what you think of the players, you have to acknowledge their influence, but seeing this movie made me question just how much longer the romantic image of the beat writers can be milked. Only a few of the progenitors are left--Kerouac, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Cassady are gone. The two people in this film who knew Kerouac well, Casssdy's wife and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, provide some interesting observations and it was interesting to hear from a couple of Cassady's kids recalling some of their experiences (I liked Jami Cassady's comment that she did not much care for Ginsberg, and the hyperkinetic ramblings of John Cassady on the DVD extras indicate that he inherited some of his father's frenetic energy). However, overall I came away feeling that the people were talking of a distant time, a distance place. In an age of smart phones, Xboxs, monster TVs, video on demand, Wiis, Facebook, YouTube, air conditioned cars, superhighways, and so forth, I wonder if reading "On the Road" now has any of the staccato punch it did on first publication, inspiring young people in the way it once did.
The movie is nicely filmed with high production values. Interweaving the readings and interviews with images of the beautiful Big Sur area is skillfully done. If I ever do get around to reading "Big Sur," this film will have provided me with ample backstory. And I would probably learn more about Kerouac than I did from this movie.
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