Jack Kerouac's On the Road hits Cannes

2012-05-23 16:20
Cannes - Jack Kerouac's cult novel On the Road, a sex, drugs and booze-fuelled hymn to youthful freedom, hit the big screen in Cannes on Wednesday with British actor Sam Riley in the driving seat.

Brazilian director Walter Salles stayed true to the exuberant spirit of the Beat Generation bible in the 137-minute movie he is pitting against 21 other works for the festival's Palme d'Or top prize.

The film, also starring Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart and Kirsten Dunst, got a polite reception at its press screening on Wednesday ahead of its red-carpet gala premiere later in the day.

Salles, best known for another roadtrip movie, The Motorcycle Diaries about Che Guevara's youthful travels, shows his heroes drinking, taking drugs and fornicating as they make their way back and forth across America, with a stopover in Mexico.

Coffee-fuelled fever

Kerouac, who calls himself Sal Paradise in the autobiographical novel about his wandering years in the late 1940s and early 1950s, is mesmerised by a character called Dean Moriarty who has done time and knows better than anyone how to live in the moment.

Sal hits the road with him and, in between their dionysian outings, reads writers like Joyce, Celine and Proust and begins to see how literature can be born out of raw experience.

The then 29-year-old Kerouac famously wrote up the novel in a three-week sitting in April 1951, typing continuously on to a 36m roll of tracing paper sheets that he cut to size and taped together.

Inspired by a rambling letter from his friend and travelling companion Neal Cassady - who becomes Dean in the novel - Kerouac decided to tell the story of their years on the road in a form that reflected the fluidity of improvised jazz.

Written in a coffee-fuelled fever, the 125 000 words of his career-making novel were poured onto the page without margins, paragraphs or chapters.

Watch the trailer for On The Road here: