After grossing a million dollars in Britain including a boffo weekend at the Curzon Soho last October, the long awaited American debut of author Jack Kerouac's Beat Generation bible On The Road has grossed just $69,885 in limited release since 21 December, half of the total box office it generated on screens in Russia.
In the Guardian reviewer Peter Bradshaw called the $25 million film production "tedious and self adoring."
After a big social media marketing campaign that built support among movie industry insiders and Kerouac cult fans the buzz about On The Road belies its bottom line. So far, after playing in 16 countries the film has grossed $5.9 million according to latest Box Office Mojo data, earning back about 25% of its production cost.
For over half a century the American movie industry has been reluctant to fund the quintessentially red white and blue road trip with conventional wisdom claiming the project was unfilmable.
Brazilian director Walter Salles and Puerto Rican screenwriter Jose Rivera teamed up to make the film publicists say On The Roadsters have been waiting for. Having collaborated on road movie The Motorcycle Diaries, a story about Che Guevara and a pal seeking freedom and social justice on the backroads of Latin America Salles and Rivera seemed bankable.
With Francis Ford Coppola owning the film rights and adding his name to the production team a Franco-Brazilian-Swiss consortium banked $25 million on the prospect that two of the most internationally respected Latino voices in the movie industry would turn the project Hollywood spurned into a boffo hit.
Without major support participation from Hollywood, however, On The Road, the movie, seems star crossed.
On The Road was released last May just in time for Cannes. But the highly touted film didn't convince the judges it deserved the Golden Palm it needed to fuel its social media marketing strategy.
Daily Mail reviewer Matthew Bond said the movie was "on the road to nowhere."
And while the film features a raunchy segment in which Dean Moriarty (Kerouac's friend Neal Cassady in real life) accepts the proposition of an older man and has graphically portrayed sex with him so he and Sal Paradise (Kerouac) can get transportation, food and money, film producers and gay rights activists have been quiet about the audience dampening R rating the film received in the United States. The Advocate claimed that the gay sex scenes in the film were not a true gay experience.
Other Brazilian films have encountered distribution problems when trying to crack the lucrative US market. Lula, Son Of Brazil the biopic of the life of former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was scheduled for US release in 2010 but political complications over Brazil's relationship with Iran and its secular leader Ahmadinejad saw the arrangement fade into darkness.
Director Walter Salles, the scion of a prominent Brazilian banking and diplomatic family (his net worth is listed on his Wikipedia page as $2.6 billion) has told online film zines that On The Road "gave voice to a whole generation who showed an unwillingness to accept imposed truths."
Those truths included what script writer Rivera said was "the enormous baggage that comes with the book. How we deal with the legions of fans, how the book changed things culturally. I had to ignore all the voices out there who hate the idea of an On the Road film." He also ignored just how conservative and Catholic Kerouac the man was.
The production team also had to work around the sensitive issue of latent anti-semitism hovering in the backstory of Kerouac's life. Popular movie industry biography site, IMDb does indicate that Kerouac's mother, Gabrielle, a character in the film, was an anti-semite with pro-German sympathies. His father, Leo, who ran a printing business was too. IMDb also claims that these views came back impact on Kerouac's reputation later in life.
Rivera had to crunch the many voices and multiple generations who comprise the so-called Beat Generation into the voice that was right for today's marketplace. And that was the voice of the generation represented by 22-year-old actress Kristen Stewart. If supplicant Jack Kerouac somehow returned from his eternal road trip in Heaven to see the movie would he say that's my generation?
With Oscar nominations due out on 10 January the biggest monetary reward the film could generate might be a best supporting actress nomination for the Los Angeles native Stewart , who plays Maggie, the teen bride of Dean Moriarty. Planting favorable articles, and groundswell propaganda, to suggest Stewart's talents are at parity with Hollywood giants like probable nominee Lady Judi Dench who played 'M' in the billion dollar grossing James Bomd thriller Skyfall..
Ever since Kerouac died broke in 1969 in-laws, entertainment industry personalities and promoters have successfuly monetized his name. Johnny Depp bought Kerouac's raincoat for $40,000. Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts paid $2.3 million at a Christies sale for the teletype roll manuscript of On The Road. Now the $25 million movie by Salles.
But the big truth Salles and his research team overlooked was staring them right in the face. In the last article known to have been written by Kerouac that appeared in the Washington Post just weeks before his 1969 death the author argued that "the printed word is the only way to keep the record straight."
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