Few movie projects have been awaited for so long by so many as the film version of Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel On the Road. More than 50 years ago, Kerouac, already becoming a slightly pickled parody of the sharp-witted roamer of the late 1940s, sent a letter to the hipster-in-chief Marlon Brando to encourage him to turn his signature novel into solid gold celluloid. Kerouac would take the role of Sal Paradise, the narrator of the novel, while Brando would assume the part of Dean Moriarty, the fictional re-modelling of the writer’s best travelling pal Neal Cassady. Brando, who lived in no one’s cultish shadow once James Dean had perished prematurely in a fast-moving Porsche Spyder in 1955, had, by then, made his mark in The Wild One and On the Waterfront, and perhaps thought Kerouac’s proposal was just a little too home-spun for the charismatic king of left-field Hollywood to consider. Or maybe his agent never showed him the letter.
In 2005, Kerouac’s actual letter to Brando made over $30,000 at a Christie’s auction, about the most concrete action there’s been on this particular topic since. Yet that hasn’t been for want of trying. The great Francis Ford Coppola has owned the rights to On the Road for decades and has tried several times to make the film a reality. One casting, some while ago, seemed to have clinched Brad Pitt as Paradise, Johnny Depp as Moriarty and Jim Carrey in a William Burroughs cameo. Course, it never happened.
Since then, Coppola has re-grouped and the 2012 version of the story is done and dusted and in the can, acclaimed Brazilian movie-maker Walter Salles handling directorial duties. With British actor Sam Riley as Sal, Garrett Hedlund as Dean, Kristen Stewart as Marylou and Kirsten Dunst as Camille, it seems that the Cannes Film Festival in the spring will give the picaresque flick its prestigious first European airing. ‘Cept there are now rumours that some Kerouac family legal action may hold up this baby once more. The courts are never far from the Kerouac estate and its legacy, ever since his early death in 1969, and there are rumbling hints another legal suit has been pitched. Let’s hope this is not another delay in the interminable and unresolved odyssey that is On the Road: The Movie. ‘Tis better thing to travel hopefully than to arrive, perhaps.