The Beat Generation on Screen

24 September – 17 December, 2014

Still from Allison Ellwood's Magic Trip, 2011

The Beat Generation on Screen

Two recent motion picture versions of Jack Kerouac novels point to a renewed interest in the Beat Generation in popular culture. This film retrospective matches documentaries with fictional features to try to get a fix on one of America’s last great literary movements and how its legacy is now seen in both memory and imagination.


24 September - On the Road

Walter Salles, UK/USA/Mexico, 2012, 124 minutes. The long awaited film version of Kerouac’s novel was both better and worse than expected, helmed by Motorcycle Diaries director Walter Salles and featuring a great performance from Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty, the fictionalised Neal Cassady.

1 October - What Happened To Kerouac

Richard Lerner, Lewis MacAdams, USA, 1986, 96 minutes. The first Kerouac documentary to make an impact, this conventionalised non-fiction film remains a strong introduction to the Beats.

22 October - Howl

Rob Esptein, Jeffrey Friedman, USA, 200, 84 minutes. The feature adaptation of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl dramatizes the poem’s famous trial while featuring unconventional animation and an extraordinary cast of James Franco, Jeff Daniels, Jon Hamm, Treat Williams and Mary-Louise Parker.

29 October - The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg

Jerry Aronson, USA, 2001, 84 minutes. The great Beat Poet’s life, art, activism and impact on American Culture from the 1950s to the 1990s and beyond.

5 November - Naked Lunch

David Cronenberg, Canada, 1991, 115 minutes. Cronenberg filmed the unfilmmable by turning Burroughs novel into a ‘Cronenberg’ film. The result is a mind-bending delight: surrealistic, subversive, and yet retaining many of the characters and situations of the print version.

12 November - William S. Burroughs: A Man Within

Yony Leyser, USA, 2010, 87 minutes. With a soundtrack by Patti Smith and Sonic Youth, this feature length doc on the oldest and craziest of the Beat Writers reveals some surprising new insights on the adding machine heir, writer, spoken word artist and ‘shotgun art’ painter.

19 November - Big Sur

Michael Polish, USA, 2013, 81 minutes. Perhaps the most faithful of all Beat Film versions, Big Sur tracks Kerouac’s retreat to a cabin near the California Shore near the end of the Beat era, with music by members of The National.

26 November - Pull My Daisy and Me And My Brother

Robert Frank, Alfred Leslie, USA, 1959, 1969, 30 minutes, 91 minutes. Nova Scotia resident Robert Frank’s unorthodox films broke new ground somewhere between documentary and fiction, with performances by Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso and many other Beat luminaries.

17 December - Magic Trip

Alison Ellwood, Alex Gibney, USA, 2011, 107 minutes. The definitive end of the Beat Era and the beginning of the1960s counterculture is documented in this extraordinary film about Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters ‘cross-country bus trip in 1964; Neal Cassady was literally at the wheel.