Well, I’ll get this out of the way: I haven’t read Big Sur. From what I gather, through excerpts capably read throughout One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Kerouac's Big Sur by John Ventimiglia, it seems like a harrowing trip, but one worth taking. Unfortunately, as tends to be the case with these sorts of films, the thing being studied and celebrated calls out more deeply than the film itself. In Kerouac’s slipshod, unabashedly fumbling musing is something musical and challenging. He mixes yearning eloquence and blunt truth in a way that defies a filmic tribute's fawning contextualization.
I think the author would be embarrassed by One Fast Move, and not just out of some arch hotshot’s sense of contrarianism. It’s just that there’re too many groan-inducing, stagily “intimate” moments here to mention. For all these adoring talking heads' praise about Kerouac’s unpretentiousness, they sure come across pretty flaky. (See, for instance, SF beat veteran Diamond Dave Whitaker.)
Even Tom Waits sounds like a dope, and I have a lot of respect for the guy as a performer. It hurts me to run this little film down, as all involved were obviously unwaveringly sincere in their wish to shine a light on something inherently special. I just wish it didn’t all come out so thin and trite and conventional. The author deserves better than the kind of crap you’d see on PBS. Not impressionism then espousing, but just impressionism. It seems this would be truer to the man’s work, and it wouldn’t create all these wince-inducing moments, either. When one talking head begins animatedly demonstrating the jazz meter of Kerouac’s prose, we're bracingly reminded of how poetry can seem like the corniest thing in existence. It’s one of those docs where you wish folks would put aside the completism (especially since the film is about a specific book) and just let the source material work its magic. It’s frustrating and tiresome enough that Hollywood culture-vulture biopics have to be as inclusive and contextually wide-ranging as possible. It makes you wish an indie like this would try to take cues from its inspiration, rather than simply basking in semi-famous people’s basking for an hour and a half.
When people go on too long about something they hold close to their heart, they’re bound to contradict themselves, repeat themselves, then finally just exhale when they and a fellow admirer can rest on a solid enough thought. This passes the time for me and my friends, but I wouldn’t expect somebody to watch a movie about it, even if we were famous -- and that's what finally bums me out about this movie. Kerouac burned supernova bright, almost guaranteeing that he was not your average human being, yet his paranoia, his guilt, and particularly his alcoholism are EVERYWHERE in this world. The longing that he wrote of for simplicity and wholesomeness could only come from a massive initial rejection of it – so massive that the resulting chaos made him stultifyingly aware that being anonymous and leading a normal, healthy human life can indeed be a blessing. Makes all these admirers seem like they’re rubbernecking, peering, eyes wide, at another talented soul eviscerating itself for the sake of self-expression.
But, like many folks in this doc, I’m getting carried away here. The truth isn’t likely so harrowing, and Kerouac the man was surely also self-serving, mundane, moody, bitter, jealous, distrustful, needy, indulgent. He was so romanticized that people maybe missed the not-so-glamourous possibility that he romanticized and perhaps aggrandized his own sickness. I think this film confuses Jack Kerouac’s rapacious over-thinking and lyrical flights of fancy with memoir, or even something somehow more unassailably true to the events before and during the writing of this book. One Fast Move is frustratingly subjective for a thorough consideration and nowhere near artful or questioning enough to be a true tome. The tone is often somewhat cutesy and glazed over, despite the oft-acknowledged darkness of the novel.
On the technical side of things, the location cinematography (some recreations, some images of where the book is set, some footage of interviewees at home) is lovely, and Jay Farrar’s rusty-roots score is even lovelier. His music fares considerably better than that of Ben Gibbard, whose poppy, nasal coo over the opening title sequence rips you out of the imagery's delicately somber mood just as violently as the aforementioned jazz finger-snapping. The staging of the speakers in intimate settings is often very tasteful, and occasionally very awkward. (Ventimiglia wandering around the beach in the dark with a flashlight comes to mind.) All in all, it’s a pretty flawed film, but it brought me back to Kerouac for the first time since I read Dharma Bums in the 11th grade. And I’ll likely read Big Sur now, though somehow I sense this film barely prepares one for just how unpleasant it gets.