On the Road, From San Fran to Taipei
Two new film series bebop and globe-hop
By Raymond Blanton, Fri., March 28, 2008
The Mad Ones: The Beat Film Series
"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing." – On the Road, Jack Kerouac
Born in the backroom venues of Harlem jazz clubs like Birdland, the beats were a product of 1940s bebop jazz. Extracting bop's noncommercial and far-out prosody, the beats investigated the abstract and dismantled tradition by borrowing from bebop's compositional style of improvisation (as well as its drug use). Improvisation, coupled with the volatile milieu of the beats' youth, stretched the possibilities of their prose and helped set off an exploratory world of literary and artistic creativity. By experimenting with the margins rather than conforming to the emerging paranoia of the Cold War, the beats utilized their slapdash exploits to generate a highly spontaneous prose and stream-of-consciousness writing, challenging the prevalent themes of alienation and isolation in postwar America.
What began as an obscure group of literary brats in NYC eventually morphed into a national counterculture movement of spokesmen who threatened the suburban respectability of 1950s mainstream America – many of whom will be showcased in the Harry Ransom Center's Beat Film Series (starting April 2). Perhaps more than anything, the eccentric thinkers of the Beat Generation were shaped by their times, having been raised in the shadows of the Depression and cultivated in war-torn America. The beats recognized the restrictiveness of their country's traditional values and sought to broaden their experiences through travel. The beats were about movement, drawing inspiration from their many global excursions, from NYC to San Francisco, Mexico City, Los Angeles, Tangier, Paris, Calcutta, and London. They provided a voice for America, both its rural landscapes as well as its bustling streets. The open road, which took on its own persona in Kerouac's On the Road, functions as a nostalgic metaphor for the America we've always been told about but have never known, a mythologized America. A mythology that, alongside the rebellious sentiments of the beats, was perpetuated by classic Hollywood works like The Wild One and Rebel Without a Cause.
During the month of April, the HRC will present a series of 16 films ranging from shorts to documentaries and features that showcase the influence of the Beat Generation on the movies. The series will run in conjunction with the ongoing "On the Road With the Beats" exhibit, which examines the literary and personal journeys of prominent beat figures like Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and Neal Cassady.
Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie's memorable short "Pull My Daisy" is one of the Beat Film Series' inaugural shorts; originally a stage play, it was adapted by Kerouac and inspired by Cassady. Other highlights in the series include Kenneth Anger's innovatively pop-cultish "Scorpio Rising," B-movie king and low-budget-filmmaking guru Roger Corman's comic-horror flick A Bucket of Blood, and independent-filmmaking pioneer John Cassavetes' Shadows. The Beat Film Series covers the gamut, examining everything from Stan Brakhage's experimental films to Shirley Clarke's abstract expressionism and everything in between (an in-between that includes Christopher Maclaine, Frank Paine, Anthony Balch, Peter Whitehead, and Ed Bland). The series looks at films as well as visual and performing arts, giving us a variety of angles through which to understand how the beats shaped modern cinema.
All screenings take place on Wednesdays at 7pm at the Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz (320 E. Sixth). Discounts are available for students, members of the Ransom Center, and Austin Film Society members. Tickets for each night are $8.25; a series pass is available for $25. For more information, see www.hrc.utexas.edu/events/2008/beatfilm.
April 2"Motion Picture" (D: Frank Paine, 1956)
"Pull My Daisy" (D: Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie, 1959)
"Cry of Jazz" (D: Ed Bland, 1958)
"Bridges-Go-Round" (D: Shirley Clarke, 1958)
"Anticipation of the Night" (D: Stan Brakhage, 1958)
April 9"Desistfilm" (D: Stan Brakhage, 1954)
"Skyscraper" (D: Shirley Clarke, 1959)
Shadows (D: John Cassavetes, 1959)
April 16"The Last Clean Shirt" (D: Alfred Leslie, 1964)
"Wholly Communion" (D: Peter Whitehead, 1965)
"Towers Open Fire" (D: Anthony Balch and William S. Burroughs, 1962)
"The End" (D: Christopher Maclaine, 1953)
"Beat" (D: Christopher Maclaine, 1958)
April 23"Scorpio Rising" (D: Kenneth Anger, 1963)
"Kustom Kar Kommandos" (D: Kenneth Anger, 1965)
A Bucket of Blood (D: Roger Corman, 1959)