By Chris Bergeron
Oct 12, 2009
As his family remembers, little Jimmy Sampas used to rush across the
yard and leap into the arms of his fun-loving Uncle Jack, known to
the rest of the world as wild man novelist Jack Kerouac.
"When Jack and my Aunt Stella were living on Sanders Avenue in
Lowell, my mom would drive me and my sister Christine there for
family visits," recalled the now 44-year-old Holliston resident who
is Kerouac's nephew. "We'd get out of the car and Jack would scoop us
up in his arms. Everyone said he was really wonderful with kids."
As the 40th anniversary of Kerouac's death on Oct. 21, 1969,
approaches, Sampas and three business partners are releasing a
powerful documentary that captures the personal torment Kerouac
poured into his 10th novel "Big Sur."
The film, "One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Kerouac's Big Sur," combines
rare archival footage, film shot on location and poignant interviews
with the author's friends who became characters in his novel,
scholars and artists affected by the Lowell native's life and writings.
Gutsy, gorgeous and often profound, the 97-minute documentary reveals
Kerouac as a complex artist and man, struggling with alcoholism and
unwanted celebrity as "King of the Beat Generation."
Published in 1962, "Big Sur" chronicles the despair and breakdown of
the author's stand-in, Jack Duluoz, who retreats to a cabin owned by
real life poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, in Bixby Canyon by California's
Born to blue collar French-Canadian parents, Kerouac was a high
school football star who abandoned a scholarship to Columbia
University to write jazz-inspired novels including "On The Road," a
1957 era-defining paean to kicks and ecstasy.
Produced by Kerouac Films, "One Fast Move" is simply the best
documentary made about Kerouac's life and should prompt new interest
in his writing and a re-evaluation of his literary legacy.
It will premiere in Los Angeles and New York City on Thursday and
Friday and then open Oct. 20 at 40 theaters nationwide including the
Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline
and Regent Theatre in Arlington.
At the same time, Atlantic Records will release a multimedia boxed
set, including a CD of 12 original songs by Jay Farrar, of "Son
Volt," and Benjamin Gibbard, of "Death Cab for Cutie," with lyrics
based entirely on passages from the novel.
Based in Cranston, R.I., Kerouac Films is jointly owned by four
partners: Sampas, who produced the film; Director and Executive
Producer Curt Worden; Producer Gloria Bailen; and Producer Roger Yergeau.
As a film project, "One Fast Move" resulted from Sampas' lifelong
passion for the work of Kerouac - whose third wife was his late aunt,
Stella Sampas, who is buried next to him in Edson Cemetery in Lowell.
His uncle, John Sampas is executor of the Kerouac literary estate
which is owned by several heirs.
After growing up in Lowell, Jim Sampas launched a musical career as a
singer-songwriter around Boston and released a CD "Waiting for the
Fall." He later produced 12 CDs including "Joy, Kicks, Darkness," a
collection of songs by notable musicians based on Kerouac's prose and poetry.
Looking to move into film, in 2007 he joined Worden and after
discussing Kerouac-related projects they decided to begin with a
documentary based on "Big Sur" as a prelude to a feature film about
it. They also have film rights to other Kerouac novels including "The
Dharma Bums" and "Doctor Sax."
Sampas said, "I read 'Big Sur' when I was 14, even before 'On The
Road.' I've always been struck by how deep Kerouac dug into himself.
It's such an intriguing book because Jack explored his demons and
inner conflicts so honestly. That's why so many people gravitate to
that novel and why Jack was such an iconic American artist."
Shot on an $850,000 budget, "One Fast Move" succeeds admirably
because Worden shot sharp, striking visuals that conveyed Duluoz's
struggle with his personal demons in ways reminiscent of Kerouac's
lyrical "spontaneous prose."
"For Jack Kerouac, the events that went into 'Big Sur' were a turning
point in his life. For that reason and many more, we felt it was a
great project to start with," said Worden in his Rhode Island studio.
"This story had lots of layers, lots of depth to it: Alcoholism,
despair, religion, depression, the need to escape from fame. All were
in Kerouac's story."
Bailen coaxed thoughtful, often profound observations about Kerouac
from 31 interviewees including the 90-year-old Ferlinghetti, actor
Donal Logue and musician Tom Waits among others.
Speaking in a scratchy whisper, Waits described "Big Sur" as "a
chronicle of a man being eaten alive by ants."
Throughout the film, people as varied as Kerouac's former lover Joyce
Johnson, poet Michael McClure, musician David Amram and Carolyn
Cassady, the wife of Kerouac's soulmate Neal Cassady, speak directly
to the camera about the man-boy writer who touched their lives.
In a bit of inspired casting, the filmmakers hired actor John
Ventimiglia, who played restaurateur Artie Bucco in "The Sopranos,"
to narrate the film. Mostly off-screen, he reads passages from "Big
Sur" in a rolling voice that perfectly captures Kerouac's New England
inflections and jazz-fueled rhythms.
Worden said, "We always felt we had to have viewers sense Kerouac's
spontaneous prose in real time. John (Ventimiglia) took on Kerouac's
voice so when you're listening, you feel you're hearing it as a
first-person narration. You really get a sense of hearing Jack's voice."
Filming like Kerouac wrote, Worden opens viewers' senses to
often-ignored everyday sights, sounds and even smells.
When the novel's narrator described drinking in Vesuvio's bar in
North Beach, Calif., his camera roams from neon signs and dimly lit
bars to rain slicked streets, evoking the nocturnal appetites of a
typical Kerouac drinking binge.
At Ferlinghetti's still-existing cabin near Big Sur's rocky coast,
Worden gets behind Kerouac's eyes, discovering serenity and natural
beauty one moment and the night terrors of an artist grappling with
loneliness, alcoholism and lost faith the next.
From their different skills, the filmmakers have enhanced Kerouac's
legacy by reviving interest in a brutally honest novel by a flawed
man seeking a balance between his troubled life and deeply personal art.
Sampas hopes so.
"We hope we can reintroduce Jack Kerouac to a new generation," he
said. "After the present generation who grew up reading Jack passes
on, I think the interests of new readers need to be triggered. That's
the hope of these film projects. Once a new generation reads Jack's
books, I think they'll embrace them."
Watch the movie trailer here: