Thursday, June 16, 2011
Joining a list of movies filmed in Monterey County that includes Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty For Me, Turner and Hooch and Star Trek IV is an upcoming feature film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s 1961 novel Big Sur.
A month ago, Michael Polish, an indie director (and writer and sometime actor) known for 1999’s Twin Falls Idaho and 2006’s The Astronaut Farmer, and a cast that includes Josh Lucas (A Beautiful Mind, Sweet Home Alabama), Kate Bosworth (Blue Crush, 21) and Anthony Edwards (ER, Revenge of the Nerds, Top Gun) came to Big Sur for three weeks to shoot a large chunk of the movie.
Polish, who spoke to the Weekly on a break from editing the film in Los Angeles, says one of the reasons for adapting the dark novel, which deals with Kerouac’s alcoholism and mental deterioration in Big Sur, was that it is probably the most autobiographical of the writer’s works. It was also a chance for Polish, who grew up in Sacramento, to film a region that he fell in love with during his youth.
“I really know Salinas and Monterey,” he says. “I felt those areas were just as much a character as Big Sur, because Kerouac was running around those areas too. All those things put together, I felt could make something pretty special and represent that area of California that I knew so well.”
But the writer and director found it initially challenging to transform the novel into a screenplay. “It was difficult in the way that you wanted to preserve his language,” Polish says. “I felt if we could stick with his prose and keep it intact, then you live and die by that. If you get it, you get it. If you don’t, you don’t. Jack Kerouac doesn’t need to be updated. It feels more like the audience needs to be updated.”
Polish notes that the recent Highway 1 road closure between Carmel and Big Sur made some people nervous before filming started. “The road opened up right before we sent in our trucks, so that was a blessing,” he says.
Karen Nordstrand of the Monterey County Film Commission says her organization helped scout the right locations to shoot, which included Bixby Canyon and Rocky Creek Canyon. Henry Miller Library Executive Director Magnus Toren also lent insight.
“I thought it was nice to mix it up, not [film] one spot,” Polish says. “It gives people a discovery of different places in Big Sur and it keeps them on their toes as to where everything was filmed.”
The director says the rugged region of Big Sur affected the actors on the project.
“When you are up in those environments, especially Big Sur, you look at people trying to get their bearings and so they have to respect what’s going on and get right into it,” he says.
In addition, the chance to play famous Beat Generation figures drove the actors and actresses to new heights.
“Everybody brought their ‘A’ game, which was important, because it was one of those shoots where people were portraying other [real] people so they wanted to do their homework,” Polish says.
In the film, Jean-Marc Barr portrays the Kerouac character. Polish says Barr, the veteran of the Lars von Trier films Dogville and Breaking the Waves, perfectly embodies the look and spirit of Kerouac.
While it might be harder to imagine Anthony Edwards as Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the film will feature Hollywood up-and-comer Josh Lucas as Neal Cassady.
“It was amazing to see Josh get into character,” Polish says. “You felt like it was the real Neal Cassady: a wiry guy who was really excited.”
Polish says he hopes that Big Sur will screen at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2012 and then hit theaters.
“There is a built-in audience for this movie, particularly because this is one of the novels that is a big seller for him still,” he says. “How we reach that audience is still going to be determined. I know it will play in theaters, it’s just how limited [of a release] that will be.”
Just a month before Sundance, director Walter Salles’ adaptation of Kerouac’s most famous work, On the Road, is scheduled to debut on the big screen. That oft-delayed project has an expansive and impressive cast that includes Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst and Viggo Mortensen, among others.
According to Polish, he doesn’t care where you see Sur – as long as you see it.
“To me, it’s an important piece of literature,” he says. “So if it gets on your iPad and you are watching it in bed, it’s just as good to me because it’s meaningful to see what an American writer was doing at this time in his life. No matter how you see it, it’s important.”