The much-discussed movie interpretation of Jack Kerouac’s most celebrated novel On the Road finally, but finally, secures its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival today, with the Walter Salles-directed production unwrapped in the full glare of the globe’s most talked about cinematic jamboree.
How though will the world respond to this re-imagined celluloid version, decades on the drawing board and now ready, after too many false starts, for critical consumption?
There are certainly some Americans who feel that this film should have received a US unveiling – Kerouac, after all, the all-American traveller who turned his treks across the States in the late 1940s into the fictionalised adventures that launched a million such road trips for those who read it.
Yet Kerouac has strong affinities with France – his 1966 volume Satori in Paris was, in part, a kind of Who Do You Think You Are? odyssey, as the writer attempted to trace the Breton roots of his name. And, of course, Kerouac grew up in New England speaking French.
Further, France has always had a particular affection for the existential antics of the Beat writers – a living, transatlantic incarnation of the philosophical ideas that Sartre and Camus had explored in the years just before Kerouac thumbed his rides on Route 66 and, by the end of the 1950s, his fellow travellers – Ginsberg, Burroughs and Corso – were living in the French capital in what became dubbed the Beat Hotel.
The new Kerouac movie, produced by Roman Coppola, will eventually earn its US debut in the autumn. Before then, on August 16th, Somerset House in London will present the UK premiere of the picture. Rumours have it that the tickets for this auspicious screening sold out in 5 minutes. The long summer of On the Road has clearly commenced.