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Friday, August 05, 2005

Being an artisan

The Guardian reports the latest on the adaptation of On The Road. Coppola is taking the rear again and Walter Salles & Jose Riviera who did The Motorcycle Diaries together are tackling the book. Exciting news actually and I don't ever want to hear the name J. Schumacher again.

"OK, here's the pitch. 'A desolate road, the 1940s. Our hero, Sal Paradise, is with Dean Moriarty, free spirit and angel-headed hipster. They're taking off on a hitchhiking tour of the USA, during which they will meet girls, listen to jazz, get drunk and visit spots of scenic and historical interest. Then they go home -' Hey, what do you mean, 'Get out of my studio, hippy'? Don't you know who I am?"

You can see the problem. But when Francis Ford Coppola first bought the rights to On the Road in 1968, you can also see why he thought he was on to a winner. With its promise of bohemian freedom, Jack Kerouac's spiritual journey into the heart of America has been seducing generations of young people ever since it was published in 1957. Its iconic status is such that to have a battered copy sticking out of the back pocket of your Levi's is as much a teenage rite of passage as actually reading the thing.

On the Road is a visual book, too: all those descriptions of enchanted mesas and lost highways are begging to have a camera turned on them. The problem is that the book's appeal lies in the spirit of its writing, which is hard to translate to film. Without traditional storytelling devices, On the Road is less a novel than a surge of energy - and that's not an easy thing to storyboard.

Still, you have to admire Coppola's tenacity. Over the last two decades, he has commissioned writers Michael Herr (Apocalypse Now), Barry Gifford (Wild at Heart) and Russell Banks (The Sweet Hereafter) for the Herculean task of turning Kerouac's freewheeling, jazz-inspired prose into filmable narrative. Now he has commissioned the Brazilian director Walter Salles to prepare a script and slated Billy Crudup for the role of Paradise. It's exciting news, but the book's legions of fans are advised to stay cool until On the Road actually hits the multiplexes - if it ever does.

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