A few years ago I was sitting in Vesuvio – the bar next to the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco’s North Beach – the place where Jack Kerouac and his Beat poet mates were said to have hung out.
Me and lil’ sis were drinking something called The Jack Kerouac – can’t remember what was in it exactly, except it contained Jack Daniels’ and er, cranberry juice. I remember thinking at the time I can’t believe Jack Kerouac ever drank something with cranberry juice in it. But it was very nice and obviously a good seller.
So this week, with the screen adaptation of On The Road finally making it into cinemas I’ve been thinking about that cranberry juice – and wondering if the film will bear any resemblance to the manic, slightly desperate whirl of the book or will it be something sweeter and more palatable, like that cocktail.
On the Road is not the obvious choice to make into a movie – it has no real story arc or narrative to speak of (that being the point) but movies tend to like structure and actual ‘stuff happening’. I mean, books are adapted because producers think they can fill theatres and make money, right? So take On the Road, add in the cranberry juice of startlingly cool Brit actor Sam Riley (from Control ) and every tweenager’s favourite fang-banger Kristin Stewart out of Twilight and you immediately up the audience crossover appeal.
What would Jack Kerouac think of the cranberryisation of his classic? Does it matter if it introduces a new audience or era to classic and maybe even, who knows, encourages them to go and read the original book?
I’ll have to see it before I make up my mind but here are some of my ‘do’s and don’ts’ for the perfect book to screen translation – let’s see how many (if any) On The Road ticks…..
1. Ignore The Author (a bit).
Look at Emma Thompson’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility in the 90s – while sticking pretty closely to the original story she injected a massive amount of froth, wit and humour into what is essentially Jane Austen most didactic and moralising novel (whisper it –it’s really quite boring.) Yes, most of the actors are much older than in the book but who cares?
*Casting cranberry juice genius? Actually making Alan Rickman adorable as Colonel Brandon!
Children of Men – 2009 dystopian thriller from the book by PD James. (That’s Baroness James to you.) Yes, her wot writes the crime stuff with Inspector Dalgleish in. Whereas the original was a bleak thriller about a time when women have become infertile the movie ups the ante throwing in a ‘fortress Britain’ scenario and some astonishing tracking shots to create a haunting vision of Broken Britain that’s uncomfortably familiar
*Casting cranberry juice genius? – Michael Caine as long-haired hippy mentor to Clive Owen’s damaged everyman Theo.
2. Don’t Ignore The Author (at all).
We Need to Talk About Kevin – a compulsively gripping novel by Lionel Shriver about the nature of a mother’s love. Like the book the film treads a superb line as to whether Eva Khatchadourian’s inability to bond with her son leads to tragedy or whether it’s because she knows from the start he’s just plain bad. Will divide readers/viewers like Marmite.
*Casting cranberry juice genius? Note to the Oscar people: Tilda Swinton was robbed!
3. Have Leonardo di Caprio In It
Decades before Donald Draper made compulsive capitalism and casual misogyny cool Richard Yates wrote Revolutionary Road, a compulsive tale of a ‘perfect couple’ fallen out of love with the stifling reality of the American Dream. In the movie, with dialogue and scenes pretty much word for word from the book, Leonardo and Kate Winslet perfectly capture the couple whose relationship is a cauldron of barely contained violence, resentment and disappointment. The most realistic love-hate couple rows ever committed to paper.
See also Leo in Alex Garland’s The Beach – despite several departures from the book, and All Saints’s warbling the theme track, this is an enjoyable debunking of the student gap year dream.
And Leo in Shutter Island (Dennis Lehane). There’s a psychiatric hospital on a storm tossed island…I can’t tell you anything, it’ll spoil it. You’ll find out when Leo does (but by then it’ll be too late).
*Casting cranberry juice genius? – Duh! Weren’t you paying attention?
4. Adapt An Early(ish) Stephen King Novel
The Shining – Kubrick captures the genuinely disturbing vibe of isolation, madness and the fact some building are just born bad! Don’t watch late at night, though – the music is very unnerving (and the ’70s carpeting is hard on tired eyes).
*Casting cranberry juice genius? – Yes Jack Nicholson’s at his best but Shelley Duvall is superbly highly-strung as his wife.
5. Adapt Stephen King short stories (set in prisons)
Before ‘More Than’ Freeman sold insurance on TV, Morgan Freeman’s honeyed tones narrated this prison story of Andy Dufresne and his ‘redemption’ at Shawshank. From Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.
The Green Mile – more depression era prison drama featuring a death row inmate with a special gift. If you aint crying by the time Fred Astaire sings ‘Heaven, I’m in Heaven’ you aint got no heart, boss!
*Casting Cranberry juice genius? – Sam Rockwell as ‘Wild Bill’ and the late Michael Clarke Duncan as simple minded John Coffey (‘like the drink, but not spelt the same’.)
6. Don’t worry about upsetting people
Before Christian Bale ‘went medieval on the ass’ of some hapless runner on the set of Terminator Salvation he was the biggest psycho of all – Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. Okay there’s stuff in the book that could never, EVER make it to the screen but this is a surprisingly enjoyable adaptation of the controversial Brett Easton Ellis novel. Disturbing and funny – yes, funny, honest! It includes a several page riff on why Huey Lewis and the news are modern cultural gods.
*Casting cranberry juice genius? – Letting the kid out of Oscar winning epic Empire of The Sun play New York’s most fashion-conscious killer!
Now I’m just waiting for On the Road – and I quite fancy a cranberry juice…
Best /worst book to screen adaptations? Come on, tell me your faves….I’m ready for a movie scrap…