Storylines In Review

2017 Blog Posts continued
Days Of The Dead
-In Memoriam, 2017
As documented last year in our blog post series, the winter season kicks off in many countries with a Día de los Muertos or ‘Days of the Dead’ event in November. This year, the Mexican version has inspired a new Pixar animated feature, Coco. (Earlier, it inspired the first Mexican film to be nominated for an Oscar for best foreign film, Macario, co-scripted by director Roberto Gavaldon from a story by the elusive ‘B. Traven’ of Treasure Of The Sierra Madre fame, said to be based in turn on a Brothers Grimm fairytale. Macario is also said to be inspired by the 1921 German anthology film Der müde Tod, aka Destiny, with tales set in the Mid-East, Venice, and China. It was co-scripted by director Fritz Lang and his partner Thea von Harbou, which in turn was “largely inspired by the Indian mythological tale of Sati Savitri” [Wiki]. Altogether a multicultural matrix!)
Like our All Souls Days, the Día de los Muertos remember the dead in general. Of course, we all have our own personal commemorations, whether the dearly departed of any year or simply the recently departed. I’m reminded of how November 22 is always remembered as the anniversary of the death of JFK, when in fact two other major 20th-century figures died the same day in 1963 - writers CS Lewis and Aldous Huxley, their deaths going almost unnoticed at the time due to the JFK news. Similarly, among the deaths this past year of film-tv contributors were a number of writers as well as onscreen figures.
The latter inevitably get more obituary press coverage as they are more familiar to readers – this year, veteran actors like Jeanne Moreau, Robert Hardy, Hywel Bennett, Michael Parks, singer and actor [True Grit etc] Glen Campbell, and even voice actress June Foray, who was heard but not seen in shows like The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. We also lost Sam Shepard, whose obits noted he worked as an actor [The Right Stuff etc] to help finance his playwriting.
Among writers, we also lost Tobe Hooper, remembered as a horror-film director but who cowrote many of his films [IMDB lists 17 writer credits]; 'the grand old man of British science fiction’ Brian Aldiss (one of his many short stories became the basis of the 2001 Spielberg film A.I.); Ann Jellicoe, who – despite a long career as an activist playwright – remains best known for the playlet which became the 1965 Richard Lester film The Knack (ironically, as her original is quite different); ‘Richard Gordon’ [born Gordon Ostlere], the author of the largely autobiographical series of 19 comic novels that began with his 1952 Doctor In The House, the basis of a film series starring Dirk Bogarde and later several tv series on ITV, most of which he helped adapt [IMDB lists 20 screen credits for him as a writer]; Michael Bond (whose Paddington books became the basis of several tv series and two recent big-screen features); Rosemary Anne Sisson, who had a long career as a tv scriptwriter for both BBC and ITV [IMDB lists 53 credits], from work on the early tv ‘soap’ Emergency Ward 10 in 1966, through episodes of The Six Wives Of Henry VIII and Elizabeth R in 1970-1, Upstairs Downstairs [11 episodes], The Duchess Of Duke Street in 1976-7, A Town Like Alice in 1981, The Wind In The Willows animated feature in 1983 and its followup 1984-8 TV series, to The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles in the 90s. Finally, she became President of the WGGB, 1995-99.
We might also include Carrie Fisher, who died within the past year [27.12.16]. After writing several semi-autobiographical novels (like Postcards From The Edge, the 1990 film of which she also scripted) and one-woman stage shows (like Wishful Drinking), she became a script doctor working uncredited on the dialogue for titles ranging from Lethal Weapon, Outbreak, The Wedding Singer, Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot, Hook, Coyote Ugly, Sister Act, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles to the Star Wars prequels. “Make the women smarter and the love scenes better,” she said was her main remit. She gave it up in the 2000s, explaining to Newsweek in 2008 that now “In order to get a rewrite job, you have to submit your notes for your ideas on how to fix the script. So they can get all the notes from all the different writers, keep the notes and not hire you.”
Though they are all now gone, their work lives on, as shown below. (I’ve not captioned the photos as most visitors here should be able to guess which film-tv titles they represent.)
Don’t Look Now, But There Are 50 Shades Of Greyscale
-Modern erotica has roots in the European arthouse school of cinema going back to the era of the black-and-white film.
Having just resurfaced blearily into the daylight after my novel-writing immersion month, [NaNoWriMo, Nov 1-30], I find my spirits restored by the annual bad-writing prize announced Dec 1st. This is the Literary Review’s Bad Sex In Fiction Award, which the judges spent their November contemplating, scanning the year’s contemporary-fiction output for lurid descriptions. (“Each year since 1993, the Bad Sex in Fiction Award has honoured an author who has produced an outstandingly bad scene of sexual description in an otherwise good novel. The purpose of the prize is to draw attention to poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction. The prize is not intended to cover pornographic or expressly erotic literature.”) Obviously, it’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it. The original aim was to discourage such ‘redundant passages of sexual description in contemporary novels’ but some authors now apparently strive to win for the publicity, which makes the entire exercise somewhat dubious.

As it is, the award does not include the type of novel (the modern version of bodice rippers) for which Sue Limb (writer of literary satires for radio like The Wordsmiths At Gorsemere and Gloomsbury) coined the term bonkbusters. The award is only for ‘serious’ contemporary novels, and a cynic might argue this is a case of Literary Fiction hitting the skids of its own pretentiousness, and getting its comeuppance. It seems it’s impossible to describe sex acts in metaphors (rocket taking off etc) without becoming ridiculous. (In case you think it’s an issue to do with English reserve, last year’s award was won by an Italian, and this year’s by a New Yorker, it having been previously won by US authors Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer, neither of whom are the shrinking-violet type.)

Conversely, there isn’t a Good Sex In Fiction Award, perhaps as any such choice would invite derision. In the past, authors like DH Lawrence, Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell have been outcasts in more senses than one, treated as sexual obsessives by the literary establishment. (Durrell was reportedly denied the Nobel Prize for Literature because of his supposed ‘monomaniacal preoccupation with erotic complications', as if he had no other interests – which of course is greatly belied by work such as his The Alexandria Quartet.)

Again, this can perversely create free publicity. I’m reminded of the case of Can I Get There By Candlelight by Julius Horwitz, an American writer who (typically) has a French Wikipedia entry but not an American / English-language one. During WWII he had been posted to London, where, as an aspiring young writer, he met some of London’s bohemians, had an affair with the wife of one, and used this as a background for his 1963 Can I Get There By Candlelight. The first paperback edition was issued with a front cover simply quoting a review promoting its sexual descriptions (“I can't remember another novel in which the joys of sexual congress are described so innocently or explicitly…”), while the back cover had a condemnatory one from the Library Journal saying librarians would help the cause of literature by banning this unsavoury mix of ‘sex, liquor and street language’. In fact, it's a tale of how the youthful protagonist comes to have his first real love affair. (See sample, right). The novel was republished in the UK, but otherwise Horwitz returned to writing social-realist novels using his day job as a background - the NY state welfare system. One of his other novels was filmed, but not this one.

Re crashing the literary-respectability barrier, the only exception I can think of is the late American-expat writer James Salter (1925–2015). Variously described as ‘possibly the best living American writer you've never heard of’ [Robert McCrum in The Observer in 2007] he was known as a “writer's writer" i.e. as an inspiration to other writers - a label Salter said he was sick of as it did him no good. He survived long enough to become respectable, but had trouble getting his breakthrough 1967 novel published. Salter had resigned his USAF commission after picking up a copy of Under Milk Wood, which decided him to write fulltime. He wrote scripts while working on his breakout novel. (He got into Hollywood after his first novel, The Hunters, based on his Korean War flying experiences, was filmed as a conventional 1950s romantic war drama.) Though it has since acquired a cult following, Salter's 1967 litfic novel A Sport And A Pastime was originally treated by his publishers ‘like it was a pair of dirty socks.’ (It was initially rejected in the US, but a Paris-based associate got it published.) The sex scenes are in fact just a small part of it, but the entire fabric is built around a sense of erotic regret, of imaginatively reliving moments that may never have happened. (This is not the place to try to explain that summary, but there’s a recent appreciation from Guardian Books here.)
It’s never been filmed, no doubt for good reason (Salter himself turned film director with Three in 1969.)

This is not the case with the recent erotic-bestseller series, Fifty Shades Of Grey et seq, which would not be eligible for a Bad Sex In Fiction Award as they are classed as expressly erotic in intent, the film versions being R-rated. (I haven’t read or seen them but I gather they follow the ‘dangerous liaison’ S&M version of the liberating-relationship storyline.) The complaints from fans of the books about the screen versions being disappointing point up an issue, of how much the reader is projecting into the work. It comes particularly to the fore with the romantic fantasy school of lit, where the fan is imaginatively projecting her- or himself into the story, strongly identifying with one co-protagonist or the other, almost like a role-playing game.
With film, the depiction is set; the viewer must just take it or leave it. Nevertheless, the films have been popular enough to have prompted a cycle of mainstream films with erotic content [see news clipping, above].

Just as there’s no annual ‘Good Sex In Fiction’ Award on the one hand, it’s hard to imagine a ‘Bad Sex In Film’ Award on the other (porn being again excluded.)
The news a while back that Don’t Look Now is to be remade by StudioCanal points up this issue, for the sex scene in the 1973 cult horror film is regarded as a model of its kind. It is imaginatively – elliptically – filmed, and its presence provides a necessary counterpoint to the story. (A married couple try to come to terms with the death of their daughter during a break in Venice.) Daphne du Maurier, author of the source story, thought the film was “so good she wrote to Roeg, if he’d adapt any more of her work.” In truth, the scene was created by cameraman-turned-director Nicholas Roeg in the most unpromising circumstances. It wasn’t in the du Maurier story or the Allan Scott, Chris Bryant screenplay, but the director felt the film needed it for balance. So he improvised it, shouting at the actors to move this way and that way, then cut the footage together in a way that would get past the censors, by intercutting shots of them dressing for dinner. It’s an elliptical montage which still convinced some the sex was unsimulated. It injects some life into what is really a contrived horror story (in du Maurier’s ‘surprise’ ending, even the protagonist comments this is a bloody silly way to die.) The film may be classed as horror, but it's "arthouse horror", with roots in European cinema.

Film never needed metaphors to dramatise a bedroom scene: the actors’ (or body doubles’) physical nudity as they undress will convey a sense of developing intimacy and there’s little need to depict the act of intercourse itself. It can of course be done (famously in Extase, 1933, where the director stuck a pin in the actress’s feet to simulate orgasm). But traditionally there is a dissolve to an intimate post-coital conversation scene. The sense of a liberating relationship is conveyed by the preliminaries and aftermath rather than the act itself. In the days of stronger cinema censorship, the sense of a liberation that comes with the affair being dramatised was often symbolised by a nude-bathing scene. Gradually, as censorship loosened, bedroom scenes supplanted these, with a post-coital shared bathtime rather than a swimming-pond skinny-dip.
Much of this progress was pioneered by the European arthouse school of cinema, with films usually made in b&w, so that the flesh tones are in fact just different shades of greyscale.
It developed from the silent era on through the 50s and 60s. So let's have a little love for these b&w films, a couple of which are illustrated below, one by Antonioni and one by Bergman, both of whom made critical contributions to the storyline, and then died on the same day 10 years ago. While their work is famously pessimistic, there are also tender scenes of physical intimacy that were influenced, one suspects, by the actresses they were privately involved with at the time.

Left: Ingmar Bergman's Sommaren med Monika / Summer With Monika, 1953, and above, Michelangelo Antonioni's L'eclisse, 1963.
On The Long And Winding Road
-To The Month Of Writing Dangerously

To the news items about Kerouac drafting’s On The Road 60 years ago [see blog post below] in only a few weeks of fulltime typing, we can now add Kazuo Ishiguoro’s drafting, in longhand, his most famous work, The Remains Of The Day, in only 4 weeks in 1987 – a month he called ‘the Crash’ (... as in crash diet, crash course?). The Guardian account linked here was reprinted after the recent news he had won the Nobel Prize for Literature. This speed might just explain the novel’s puzzling title image, the final one of the protagonist watching the ‘remains of the day’, i.e. the sun set, off Weymouth Pier ... on the south coast. (The film version used Clevedon, on the west coast, though there is no sunset, due to the pouring rain.) The author:

I kept it up for the four weeks, and at the end of it I had more or less the entire novel down: though of course a lot more time would be required to write it all up properly, the vital imaginative breakthroughs had all come during the Crash. I should say that by the time I embarked on the Crash, I’d consumed a substantial amount of “research”…

That last sentence is obviously key – it reminds me of the deceptive anecdote about H Rider Haggard betting his brother 5 shillings he could sit down and write a book as good as Robert Louis Stevenson's 1883 Treasure Island, which was the big hit of the time. The result was a classic, credited with ‘inventing the romance of archaeological exploration’: King Solomon's Mines. He wrote it in a few months in early 1885, perhaps in as little as 6 weeks (accounts differ). But the point is Haggard had already done all his groundwork: he had travelled around that part of Africa age 19, and written a nonfiction book about the Zulu Wars. Ironically it took longer to find a publisher than it did to write, though it became an immediate bestseller, and never out of print since.

Above: The first page of King Solomon's Mines. Written quickly in early 1885, it became the foundation of the expeditionary storyline. (See our feature page on this: The Expeditionary Storyline - Introductory Page

The more typical pattern of development is more likely reflected in the career of the ‘English Proust,’ Anthony Powell, who is in the news as the subject of a new biography, by Hilary Spurling. (“He was genuinely depressed after the war, waking every morning wishing he were dead. By this time, I was thinking: ‘Well, get on with your masterpiece, then!’ It took another six years for that to happen — and Tony was still being supported financially by his father well into his late 40s.”) Its theme is how he was ‘wanting to die every morning’ as he struggled against boredom, obscurity, chronic indigestion and (despite marrying into the nobility) lack of funds, before finding success in his 50s with his A Question Of Upbringing, when he finally managed to take his own advice and ‘get on with it.’ This was followed over the next quarter-century by 11 sequels, known collectively as A Dance To The Music Of Time, a novel sequence as much based on his friends and acquaintances as Kerouac’s was, and also based partly on diaries. (What the storyline is I'm not sure, as I got put off the idea of tackling the novels by an acquaintance of Powell's who evidently mistook me for a potential biographer, when he saw me making notes from an earlier biography in the library, and tried to interrogate me about my intentions. "Who are you? Why are you reading about a friend of mine? I have a right to know." As Powell's friends were also characters in his novels, this was a slightly surreal experience - which one he was, I never discovered.)

Part of Powell’s problem seems to be that he led a rather sheltered life within his circle of friends that he used for material, almost his only jobs being dilettante attempts at being a publisher’s editor, a literary critic etc. Despite the cover image of the new biography showing him on the road to somewhere snowbound, he does not seem to have ventured far from his Somerset estate, where he died. However, many authors, having to work for a living, have a varied work background, often involving travel here and there, which they can later put to good use. The back-cover-blurb template is “Before becoming a fulltime writer, the author was a [-fill in list of odd jobs here-]”. Thus however quickly the text is drafted, the events leading up to that moment are likely to represent the proverbial long and winding road. This phrase, from the Beatles song, is indeed the title of the current memoir (a followup to 2 previous prize-winning volumes) by one of the few British politicians to have actually held a real job, Alan Johnson MP. (He left school at 15 and worked as a postman, where he became a union rep. Tony Blair famously said to him when he brought him into Parliament in 1997, and heard how - unlike most career politicians - he had had a real job before politics, 'Oh, so you really are working class aren't you?')

The news that The Day Of The Jackal (1973) is finally out on BluRay after not being available on DVD except as a poor-quality import reminds me that the author Frederick Forsyth, being flat broke, famously sat down and wrote the book in 35 days in Jan-Feb 1970 on a “battered old typewriter ... in a mate’s kitchen”. (Like Haggard he had been in Africa, from where he has just returned.) This astonishes some for it is a detailed novel, one of the first techno-thrillers, where the formula is that half the text (in this case, 140,000 words or 358pp) is factual background and half narrative [see illustration of opening page, opposite]. Of course, the key is that Forsyth had been a journalist, who got the idea for the novel’s premise 7 years before when, as a young Reuters foreign correspondent, he covered the real-life 1962 assassination attempt on DeGaulle depicted in the film’s opening. As the Teacher's Notes PDF puts it:

When Forsyth returned to London in 1970, he began to write fiction. The story of his first novel, The Day of the Jackal, was one he had in fact begun to plan in 1962–63, when he had worked in Paris. He had read many thrillers and adventure novels himself, but had often been disappointed at their authors’ lack of knowledge of their subjects, which made the stories unrealistic. This accuracy in the details of the plot against a background of real events and characters is Forsyth’s greatest contribution to thriller writing.

As a Guardian article put it in the on the 40th anniversary of the novel's publication:

Before, thrillers were self-evidently works of the imagination. Forsyth changed all that; never before had a popular novelist created a world that seemed indistinguishable from real life. His debut had a documentary sense of realism that all but convinced the public they were reading a work of non-fiction. "Sweeping the country," exclaims the flyleaf of my dog-eared copy from 1971 – "the novel that may not be one!" … Few writers can claim to have changed the literary landscape. Forty years ago, a penniless British journalist, unwittingly or not, did just that.

And as with H Rider Haggard’s King Solomon's Mines, it took longer to find a publisher than it did to write, though it became an immediate bestseller in the US (No. 1 on the NY Times fiction Best Seller List), and never out of print since, as well as the start of a successful writing career for the author. (His time in Africa became the inspiration for his The Dogs Of War.)

After only being available on DVD as a poor-quality foreign import disc, The Day Of The Jackal (1973) is finally out on BluRay, complete with a BD-ROM copy of the script adaptation by Scottish-American screenwriter Kenneth Ross. It's an instance of the 'investigative procedural' and 'best-laid plans' storylines converging. The screenshot above is from Chapter One of the novel, which is available for download from the BBC, here.
The pair of screenshots at left are from the opening scene from the film, showing how the real-life ambush went wrong. (The live-action version, showing the ambush and the ringleader's execution as described on the opening page above, is on YouTube here.)

Anthony Powell’s advice to just “get on with your masterpiece” brings us to National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo, starting next week, when tens of thousands of people across the world sit down to write a draft of their novel (50,000 words minimum) in 30 days, November 1-30. (It began in San Francisco in 1999, but should now really be called International Novel Writing Month, or IntNoWriMo.) I didn’t go for it last year as I’d just returned days before from a lengthy sojourn abroad and didn’t have my handwritten notes or laptop files transferred to my work PC. (Excuses, excuses.) But unlike some academic acquaintances who have never done anything but teach, I’ve definitely been down that long and winding road of other jobs and careers and a range of outside experiences, of which I feel I’ve now had just about enough. (A sentiment reflected in my Yahoo email sig-line, taken from Indiana Jones: "It's not the years, it's the mileage.") So this year I thought I’d give it a go, at least novelise a script I’ve been working on in my spare time since 2012. And since the point is to just get on with it and not merely think or talk about it, I’m obeying the first rule of Write Club. (Inspired by Fight Club, it's: You do not talk about Write Club!) So, in response to the standard query from acquaintances:
What’s your novel going to be about anyway, and what’s it called?
Answer: It’s going to be about 250 pages when finished and it’s called … Untitled Book, Or Work In Progress.

… Therefore no blog posts in November and no further comments on this here, or on the NaNoWriMo site, about my own experience with the upcoming Month Of Writing Dangerously. (The site has a facility where you can register, join in forums discussing writing software like Scrivener v the newer Dabble, etc.) I’ll leave you with the image below, from one moment in my own long and winding road, of the scene where I first attended a 'Write Club' type of writers' retreat in 2014. The book on the table is called simply Write, a 2012 Guardian anthology whose ultimate message was: don't just talk about it, bloody well get on with it. For anyone interested, the NaNoWriMo site is here.
On The Road At 60
- The ‘road trip’ storyline is still rolling along, 60 years after Kerouac’s classic work was published.


Left: The budding writer at work. A pair of screenshots from the 2012 film adaptation by Jose Rivera
Sixty years ago this month, in September 1957, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road was finally published. I say ‘finally’ as it took a while to find a publisher. The 4 road trips it covered, mostly between New York and San Francisco via Denver, had occurred back in 1947-50. Using notebooks kept on these trips, Kerouac compiled his account in 1951 in a single month of almost nonstop typing (supposedly @ 100 wpm - he didn’t even put in paragraph breaks), reliving the experience fuelled by Benzedrine. Though he used pseudonyms for himself and his co-protagonists, it’s mainly a straightforward autobiographical account. It was also naively romantic in a way that can be contrasted with the 2013 Coen brothers film about the early-60s Greenwich Village folk-music scene, Inside Llewelyn Davies, which culminates in a miserable winter-time NYC-Chicago road trip. Kerouac tended to be uncritical about his longtime road-trips buddy ‘Dean Moriarty’ [= Neal Cassady, 1926-68], who hustled, stole, was a bigamist who dumped pregnant women etc.

There are several differing accounts of what Kerouac typed his book on, varying from a roll, or rolls, of newsprint, butcher paper, or teletype paper. The back-cover photo here [mouse over] suggests it was rolls of tracing paper, which he then scotch-taped together to form a single 120-foot roll. This process is shown at the end of the 2012 version. He submitted the taped-together roll to several publishers, some of whom seem to have been offended by the delivery format (this is shown in the 1980 biopic Heart Beat, written by director John Byrum). There is an account that in May 1951 he retyped the tracing-paper draft done in April onto a roll of teletype paper obtained from a fellow Beat, Lucien Carr, an editor at United Press International, who is a central character in the films Beat and Kill Your Darlings.

Truman Capote famously said, “That’s not writing, 'that's typing,” implying it was nothing but typed-up diaries. But this begs the question, assuming the original journals were the usual factual accounts we see in diaries. In fact it’s a writers’-notebook style early draft, and almost the only changes were that fictional pseudonyms were substituted for his friends’ real names at the publisher’s insistence. (Some sex encounters were also cut.) Kerouac had earlier published a more conventional novel to faint praise, and the road-trip notebooks became the basis of an honest account of youthful experience, all the more remarkable for being written in a language that was not the author’s first (he was born Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac to French Canadian parents, speaking a Quebecois dialect called Joual). He also tried several earlier drafts before his benzedrine-fuelled marathon transcribing the original notebooks. These were written as if they were letters to a friend. The famous 120’-long scroll was eventually sold for £1.68m /$2.43m, and in 2007 became the basis of Penguin’s 50th-anniversary On The Road: The Original Scroll, so readers can judge for themselves.

Kerouac's 'spontaneous prose' style was facilitated when he found a way to avoid having to stop typing to change and align typewriter sheets. This (and some coffee and benzedrine pills) allowed him to complete a draft of On The Road in 20 days.
Left: Screenshots from the 2012 film adaptation showing the scroll in use.

In September 1957, it became an overnight success after the appearance of a milestone review in the NY Times. (“the most beautifully executed, the clearest and the most important utterance yet made by the generation Kerouac himself named years ago as "beat", and whose principal avatar he is'.”) Kerouac could have said the same thing as Lord Byron: “I awoke one morning, and found myself famous,” when the first two parts of “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” appeared in 1812, his autobiographically-based epic poem about a disillusioned youth’s travels on the Continent. In other words, after years of struggle, at age 35 Kerouac became an overnight celebrity, with little hope of an ordinary private life from then on. (Byron fled his new-found fame or notoriety back to the Continent in 1816, where he threw himself into supporting the Greek independence struggle, and died in 1824 of sepsis, age 36.) Kerouac married three times, had one child (whom he refused to acknowledge), and when he died in 1969, he was living in Florida with his 3rd wife and his ailing mother. He died of complications from cirrhosis of the liver, an angry alcoholic with a penchant for barroom brawls (his conversion from Catholicism to Buddhism doesn’t seem to have helped calm him down), unable to come to terms with his celebrity status and the hostile caricaturing of him as 'King of the Beatniks'. He did nevertheless complete the balance of his sequence of autobiographical novels in the 60s - Big Sur (1962), Desolation Angels (1965), Satori In Paris (1965), and Vanity Of Duluoz (1968). ('Jackie Duluoz' was Kerouac's preferred pseudonym for himself, supplanting the original 'Sal Paradise' he used in On The Road. His publishers insisted he use a different pseudonym in each novel for each of his friends depicted -online listing here.)

Kerouac's companions and intimates, male and female, also wrote accounts over the years of their road trips and lives together. The last to do so was 'Marylou' [LuAnne Henderson], the first, teenage, wife of 'Dean' [Neal Cassady], in 2011. Second wife Carolyn Cassady ['Camille'], titled her own 1996 memoir Off The Road, while her earlier 1980 account of her life as part of a threesome with Kerouac and Cassady, Heart Beat, was loosely adapted for the screen in 1980.

On The Road launched the notion of the ‘Great American Road Trip’ as a youthful rite of passage, a breakout from normal society, a attempt to “find yourself”. Soon, journalists were using the term The Beat Generation for disaffected youth wanting nothing to do with the smug materialist side of Eisenhower-era, full-employment postwar America. What were termed, collectively and unsympathetically, as ‘Beatniks’ (the –nik suffix implied they were Commie-influenced, un-American) appeared as characters in many mainstream works through the 50s and early 60s. These books were mainly set in the Bohemian neighbourhoods of NYC, San Francisco etc, and did not use the ‘road trip’ storyline per se. Nor did Kerouac use it again, but it had caught on as an idea, in contemporary life as well as literature. (Many years later, I myself was drawn into this scenario, with a road trip to San Francisco’s City Lights bookshop - run by another Beat poet - and Big Sur when I was 19.)

Left: screenshots from the 2012 film On The Road

A notable mainstream follow-on example of the ‘road trip’ storyline, route 66 (CBS-TV 1960–1964), was similar enough Kerouac wanted to sue. The co-protagonist, Buzz Murdoch, has swatches of ‘poetic’ dialogue written by showrunner Stirling Silliphant, and is played by an actor who resembled both Kerouac and Neal Cassady. However his co-protagonist is a nice college boy and they drive a new Corvette, working in temporary blue-collar jobs to pay their costs. (Its 116 episodes were filmed on location around the US, on and off the actual Route 66, which runs SW from Chicago.) Sponsored by Chevrolet, it was a cleaned-up mainstream version of the storyline with a more middle-class appeal – no drugs or sexual promiscuity here.

The death earlier this year of actor-singer Michael Parks prompted obits mentioning his 26-episode tv series Then Came Bronson, created by Denne Bart Petitclerc, about a newspaperman who drops out and heads off across America on a motorbike after a friend’s suicide. Again, there are no drugs or promiscuity, only the protagonist helping others he meets along the way with their life crises. Its oddly self-aware title implies the protagonist is joining in the scenario somewhat late in the run, in this case 1969, the year of the ultimate motorcycle ‘freedom rider’ version of the road-trip film, Easy Rider. In fact Parks, for a while considered James Dean's successor, had appeared in an earlier road-trip story, the 1965 Wild Seed. This was based on a 1957 script originally developed for Brando, as a young drifter who befriends a teenage runaway hitch-hiking and riding the rails cross-country to California. Brando had already appeared as a leather-jacked motorbike gang leader in The Wild One in 1953, and Kerouac had written to him about playing the lead in a planned film of On The Road.

The ‘road trip’ storyline itself doesn’t depend on the characters having a car, and characters can take a train, (including by ‘riding the rails’ hobo-style aboard a freight train), hitch-hike, take the bus cross-country etc. For his own trips, Kerouac himself went by car, took a Greyhound coach (“riding the dog”), and occasionally hitch-hiked, while onscreen characters use these and other modes of travel, from backpack camping to 'camper 'vehicles. The first work to utilise the latter I’m aware of John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley: In Search Of America (1962), where the author’s cross-country road trip with his dog Charley provided the framework for a snapshot of backroads America in 1960. This was in contrast to Kerouac and his companions, who never display any interest in the people they met en route. The ‘truck camper’ (basically a contoured caravan body mounted on a pickup truck) was a uniquely comfortable mode of transport for road trips, and was soon being mass-produced. Steinbeck had his custom built and named it after Don Quixote's steed Rocinante - which may have a covert literary clue to the book’s real nature as largely a work of the imagination. In reviews of the 50th anniversary edition in 2012, I read that other writers who tried to follow Steinbeck’s route discovered it didn't add up - he probably invented much of the narrative. Steinbeck had earlier written The Grapes Of Wrath, which has a desperate Oklahoma family becoming one of many heading west on Route 66 for California to get jobs picking fruit, after their farm business is wiped out in the 30s ‘Dust Bowl’ disaster. He had researched the ‘Okies’ migrant farmworkers phenomenon while working for a San Francisco newspaper, and the bestselling, multiple award-winning novel (filmed in 1940) had a major impact, drawing attention to political corruption as well as administrative incompetence. (After the book came out, the local police tried to frame him on a rape charge using a prostitute; luckily he was tipped off.) Here, a still from the 1940 film scripted by Nunnally Johnson and directed by John Ford, showing the family pickup truck piled high with furniture.

Particularly in the US, the ‘road trip’ storyline expanded in the 1970s beyond youthful-dropout setups to include middle-age crisis and senior-citizen retirement-break scenarios, and its continuing popularity (rather than just the so-called “Kerouac industry” literary cult) is today the best testimonial to Kerouac’s influence.

In the past 5 years, we have had a cycle of road-trip filmed works including a couple of off-road variants (no motor vehicles involved) about characters on overland backpacking trips of self-discovery. Steinbeck’s “Travels With…” title formula had been inspired by Travels With A Donkey In The Cevennes, Robert Louis Stevenson's 1879 account of a 12-day 200km foot journey regarded as the pioneering work in the long-distance-hike subgenre of travel books. (Thoreau’s outdoors-walk accounts predate it but seem not to have been so well-known then.) Wild (2014) was adapted by Nick Hornby from Cheryl Strayed's 2012 memoir of her 1995 self-rehab hike up the Pacific Crest Trail to Canada, and the 2015 film of satirical travel writer Bill Bryson’s A Walk In The Woods was the realisation of Robert Redford’s longtime project to adapt it. Bryson was born the year On The Road was published and had earlier written The Lost Continent, about a series of road trips (totalling over 13,000 miles) trying in vain to discover the small-town America he had seen in Hollywood films. In Redford’s case, the project took so long to be realised that planned co-lead Paul Newman had died, and the character motivation moved from midlife restlessness to a near-retirement-last-chance-to-see one.

Since the 50th anniversary of the book in 2007, there have been new biographies, some becoming the basis of new dramas. Kerouac appears in several of these (Howl, Kill Your Darlings, Big Sur), though none are a direct adaptation of his novels. Nevertheless, On The Road itself was finally filmed, after a long series of aborted attempts going back to the late 50s, in 2012. This was backed by Francis Ford Coppola (who had written and directed an early realist road-trip film, the 1969 The Rain People), being then scripted by his producer-son Roman Coppola. It would be ultimately directed by Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles from an adaptation by Jose Rivera, the pair having previously collaborated on The Motorcycle Diaries (2004), about the 1950 road trip the young Che Guevara took through South America. The script used the uncut 'scroll' version as source, plus other material when the original narrative proved too elliptical.

Left and below: Their take-away reading was Swann's Way, Vol. I of Proust's 7-volume In Search Of Lost Time aka Remembrance of Things Past. Kerouac would also attempt a novel-sequence in his own work.

By the time On The Road was filmed, it was a period piece rather than a contemporary-set work. (It was largely filmed in Canada, where the roads are less busy.) Today, there are still contemporary-set road-trip stories about the same generation characters - no longer youthful protagonists, but ageing baby-boomers.

Left: the finale of the 2012 adaptation. Budding author 'Sal Paradise' looks out over his scroll, remembering his past adventures, though he also consults his travel notebooks for times and places, which the film identifies with onscreen titles. (Mouse over to see 2nd image.)

Current and upcoming contemporary-set examples (with ageing baby-boomer protagonists) of the storyline include:
The Time Of Their Lives
(2017), written by director Roger Goldby, has a pair of retirement-age women, one an ex-Hollywood star (played by Joan Collins), travelling from England to France for her onetime-lover's funeral.

Our Souls At Night, released this month from the posthumously-published novel by Kent Haruf, has two small-town neighbours (played by Fonda and Redford) joining forces, ultimately for a final visit, in his pickup truck, to relatives. (See images at left.)
Also out this autumn, The Leisure Seeker, from a 2009 Michael Zadoorian novel, has an elderly couple (played by Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland) take a final road trip south down Route 66 to the Ernest Hemingway House in Key West as she has terminal cancer and he has Alzheimer's.
(See images at left.)
Being released in November, Last Flag Flying, scripted by director Richard Linklater and Darryl Ponicsan from his 2005 novel, a sequel to his 1970s military-escort train-trip drama The Last Detail, has the ex-military buddies drive a coffin home.
... Given that this wave of postwar baby boomers who grew up on Kerouac are now hitting retirement age, it wouldn’t be surprising if there more such last-chance road-trip dramas to come.

From The Mountains Of Kong To The Mountains Of Madness
-In putting together our feature case-study page for the 'expeditionary' storyline on how writers have adapted the key 'gateway barrier' scene, it's notable how the conception has expanded from [often exaggerated] natural features, such as cliffs or gorges, to psychological, cultural or spiritual obstacles.
For example, old maps of Africa showed an extensive E-W range of mountains in West and Central Africa, named The Mountains of Kong, which we now know to be nonexistent - merely a range of low hills on the savannah. They did give us a headline name for an iconic 1933 expeditionary film and its central character. (The name itself came from a root which also appears in the name of the ruling tribal kingdom which survived in the name of the Congo River to the southeast.) Likewise, the mountain-gorilla species on whom Kong is largely modelled is not as mindlessly aggressive (kidnapping women etc) as early explorers depicted, but behind the chest-beating bluff-charges, a rather gentle creature. The turning point in public recognition of this was probably David Attenborough's close encounter with them in BBC's 1979 Life On Earth, though the idea of the gentle primate (v murderous mankind) had been dramatised earlier, cf in Nigel Kneale's 1950s tv play and feature film The Abominable Snowman.
'Malevolent' nature is a worldview that no longer prevails, with everything in the wilderness simply out to kill you as soon as it sees you. But culture shock can be a real obstacle for the unwitting explorer. The idea that the local native lore about some remote spot is not simply mindless superstitious taboos but represents recognition of real supernatural or elemental forces is one that has been emerging in recent decades. Recently, filmmakers have been wrestling with how to adapt HP Lovecraft's 1930s novella At The Mountains Of Madness, where the alien and mutant horrors the expedition encounters shock the academics on it out of their orthodox assumptions about human evolution, and cause the survivors to discourage any further expeditions. The studio balked at director Guillermo del Toro's plan to make it a full-on R-rated horror, but I imagine its time will come soon. ... All this is by way of introduction to our feature case-study page for the 'expeditionary' storyline on its key 'gateway barrier' scene, here.
The Lost World Redux
The 1925 Lost World, the grand-daddy of expeditionary adventure films, was issued September 19 on a multi-region Blu-ray which is the fullest restoration thus far. The original 10-reel version of The Lost World was reportedly withdrawn when RKO bought the rights to it and Conan Doyle’s 1912 source novel to avoid litigation over their upcoming King Kong, which reuses a number of motifs. (As it says on the cover of some DVD issues, without it, we would not have had the 1933 King Kong - or Jurassic Park.) What remained in circulation was a 16mm 5-reel edition for film-society and club showings, part of a series of non-theatrical feature cut-downs issued by Eastman Kodak to help sell their line of Kodascope projectors. This is how I myself first saw it, via a 16mm print my father, an amateur projectionist, rented for club showings. Though I saw this over and over, I can’t recall how long it was. A standard theatrical reel was then 10 mins long, which would imply a 50-minute version, though silent films had no standard projection speed, with scenes shot at between 12 and 27 fps. The digitised versions of the Kodascope abridgement are in fact usually listed as running just over an hour. There’s an apocryphal story this became America’s first in-flight movie, back in the 1930s when cross-country passenger flights first really took off, so to speak.
Later there were much shorter 8mm ‘home collector’ versions, consisting of a few minutes of dino-scene ‘highlights’, the first of these being issued by Encyclopedia Britannica films, which offered both standard-8 and 16mm reduction prints of ‘educational’ titles. Attempts at restoration go back to the laserdisc era. Eastman Kodak had been involved in restorations of silent classics like Nanook Of The North for the non-theatrical market, and archivist David Shepard would describe the painstaking process in the newsletter/catalogue put out by Blackhawk Films, which sold both 8mm and 16mm copies. With the rise of digital media, the collectors’-print market died off, but archivist David Shepard carried on independently, and one of his projects, in conjunction with the George Eastman Museum, was reconstruction of The Lost World.

The discovery of a 90-minute print in the Czech film archive led to a Lumivision laserdisc in 1991, issued on DVD in 1997, with stills showing missing scenes. A 93-minute ARTE restoration in 2000, with newly discovered clips from 8 different international prints, followed, appearing on home video in 2001 and on DVD in 2003. There are still umpteen versions on offer, so care needs to be taken if not ordering the latest version, e.g. if you don’t have Blu-ray capability yet, only DVD; there’s a version-comparison reviews page here.

The new 2K restoration from Blackhawk Films, Lobster Films and Flicker Alley , which has a new full-orchestra underscore, premiered at the 2017 San Francisco Silent Film Festival. The Deluxe Blu-ray Edition seems to run 103 minutes, though it is given on the packaging as 110. The hour-long versions focussed on the dinosaur scenes whose integrated stop-motion animation made the film such a hit. (Chief animator Willis O’Brien used the same techniques on King Kong – model figures with movable skeletal steel armatures, filmed one frame at a time, their position adjusted between each frame shot, on giant table-top sets, with some shots including the actors via split-screen shooting, then a new cinematic technique.)
The 2001 DVD Journal review of the first restoration noted:
screenwriter Marion Fairfax earned O'Brien's undying enmity by reassuring him that should his new animations end in failure, her scenario would get along just fine without him if the dinosaurs had to be left out. She needn't have bothered. Today, seeing the restored version, there are obvious continuity gaps — though much of what we are missing is not due to lost portions but rather to the original [i.e. Kodascope version] editors themselves, who probably left half of Fairfax's script on the cutting room floor.

Nevertheless, the presence of what the exhibitors termed “Love Interest” to broaden a film’s audience appeal (in this case, a young woman going on the trip in search of her missing explorer father) became a standard element. King Kong’s main scriptwriter Ruth Rose worked this ‘cross-sofa appeal’ into the story setup, where the nature-filmmaker protagonist is told to include this element in his next picture “Because the public, bless ’em, must have a pretty face to look at.” Thus was born the cinematic ‘jungle romance’. Here, we get a safari-romance type love triangle between young newspaperman Ed Malone, explorer’s daughter Paula White, and glamorous big-game hunter Sir John Roxton. At least the Paula White character is a lot less ridiculous than the female character in the next version, made in 1960, who flounces about the jungle in pink hot pants carrying a small white poodle, like something out of a Monty Python parody.

The new restoration, dedicated to David Shepard, who died this year, has a whole set of supplementary feature items, including out-takes or deleted scenes. The restored print has around 10 minutes of previously unseen footage, though the attack on the expedition’s river camp by the ‘cannibal’ tribe, which leads to the bearers deserting downriver, is still missing. (Only stills survive.) Also incorporated is a hand-tinted version of the scene where the allosaurus’ night attack on the camp is halted by a firebrand hurled into its jaws [clip here].

The pinnacle ascent / log bridge sequence is an example of the 'Gateway Barrier' Scene, a key scene for the Expeditionary Storyline – in fact we’ve put up a case-study page with examples of 10 different ways scriptwriters have set it up, here:
The Expeditionary Storyline | Case Study Page: The 'Gateway Barrier' Scene.


The new BRD cover is nothing special, just the 1925 poster image, so for our key image here I’m using the scene-setting shot which first appears under the main titles. (Mouse over image to see the 2nd pic.) This is the plateau ‘cut off from evolution for millions of years’ where dinosaurs have survived. You can see the pinnacle the party ascend by, using an improvised log bridge, at right. Below, you can see the handy tree the expedition cuts down, as a pterosaur flies off the plateau.


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Storylines In Review 2017