“On the Road” to “Kill Your Darlings”: Trying to gauge the new found fascination with the Beat Generation
Hollywood has of late taken a keen interest in the healthy excesses of the Beat Generation. Previously untouched for except a few independent documentaries and one Keanu Reeve starring low budget ‘95 biopic on Neal Cassady- the Beat Movement now provides fodder for the cultured Hollywood filmmaker. First, the 2012 film “On the Road” based on one of Beat’s most prominent writer Jack Kerouac’s novel of the same title. Now, the Daniel Radcliffe starrer “Kill Your Darlings” delves into the lives of the forerunners of the Beat Generation- Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs.
Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs along with the likes of Gregory Corso, Lucien Carr, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Neal Cassady to name a few made up what was to be known to the world as The Beats. Most of them were students of the arts who rejected institutions, romanticism of the human condition, questioned Western religion, heteronormativity and indulged in copious amounts of drug taking for recreational purposes. The Beat Generation of the 50’s is considered by many to be the consolidation of the counter-cultural movement that gave shape to the hippie movement of the 60’s and 70’s. “Howl”, “Naked Lunch” and “On the Road” are believed to be the best-known examples of Beat Literature. It is difficult to trace a chronology for the literary works of the time as many Beat poets and authors were simply not interested in having their works published. Since, the Beat literature that did emerge onto the mainstream scene was immediately declared obscene. Despite their quirks, the Beats’ contribution to literature and more widely the arts is undeniable. William Burroughs is thought of as the forefather of Post-Modern Literature and the Cyberpunk genre. Slam poets acknowledge their inspiration on them. Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison and The Beatles all claim to have been patrons of their friendly influence.
So all this and still The Beat Generation was forced to hog literary oblivion. Until Hollywood found a prize-winning parallel between the depressed youth of today and the distressed young beat poets. While Daniel Radcliffe does his best to fill the socks of the eccentric brilliant Allen Ginsberg, he is no James Franco. (Refer to the 2010 cinematic dramatization of “Howl”). “Kill Your Darlings” introduces us to Ginsberg in his time at Columbia University where he meets the impressive Lucien Carr. “Lu” subsequently expands “Ginsey’s” social circle to include Kerouac who had “just completed working on his first novel” and Burroughs, “the odd-looking Harvard passout from a family of distinguished criminals”. Together, Lucien and Burroughs try to stretch Ginsberg’s mind by encouraging Benzedrine consumption, portrayed quite vividly in the film. Another focal point in the movie seems to be the awakening sexuality of Ginsberg and the shunning of Lucien’s own homosexuality. Carr who later disassociated himself from the Beat scenario and went onto hold a steady job as the editor of United Press International never identified himself as a queer. Yet, he is portrayed in “Kill Your Darlings” as almost encouraging his friend David Kammerer’s romantic approaches. Kammerer, being the man who he went to prison for after having been found guilty on the charges of manslaughter. The movie is a fictionalized re-telling “based on true events”. It is worth a watch for educating yourself on the elusive Beat Generation and one hopes the Carr family does not file a lawsuit claiming defamation against the director.