Beat writers to get the Hollywood treatment

Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs feature in three new films

They were hailed as the greatest minds of their generation; but despite their drug-induced, jazz-fuelled exploits, which helped to introduce the notion of youth culture to Cold-War America, the adventures of Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg have for some reason evaded proper treatment on the big screen.

Now three films are in production, aiming finally to capture the true characters of the three writers whose messages of personal freedom and non-conformity changed US society.

On the Road, a film of Kerouac's pivotal 1957 novel about his backpacking trips across America, is being turned into a film by the team behind The Motorcycle Diaries, with Francis Ford Coppola producing.

Kerouac also makes an appearance in Howl, a film that covers the 1957 obscenity trial faced by Ginsberg's publisher on account of his long poem of that name, starring James Franco and Alan Alda.

And there is a movie in the pipeline about Lucien Carr, the friend who brought Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs together, and his murder of a gay stalker which Kerouac and Burroughs helped to cover up in 1944.

A film of On the Road has been mooted for nearly 30 years. Coppola bought the rights in 1979 and since then there have been numerous abortive attempts to produce a script. Now, with Walter Salles and Jose Riveras on board – the director and screenwriter of The Motorcycle Diaries, about the young Che Guevara's formative trip through South America – the cameras are rolling, and the film is due for release next year.

The independent film company Killer Films, which was behind the star-studded 2007 biopic of Bob Dylan, I'm Not There, has also announced that it is to make Kill Your Darlings, starring the English actor Ben Whishaw as Lucien Carr, who stabbed his gay stalker, David Kammerer, to death. Kerouac and Burroughs told the story in And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, which they co-wrote in 1945 and which was published for the first time last year.

The poem Howl, another milestone of countercultural literature, raged against the conformity of 1950s America and was prosecuted because of its references to drug-taking and homosexuality. The film will also be a biopic of Ginsberg, who died in 1997.

It's not the first time film has tackled the Beats, but previous efforts, such as David Cronenberg's 1991 film of William Burroughs's novel The Naked Lunch, proved to be off-beat movies with little mainstream appeal.

Professor Nicholas Lawrence of the University of Warwick says there are parallels between now and the 1950s which give the Beats new appeal.

"We've just come out of a regressive and free-speech-threatening period in US history, and the reaction to this is still unfolding," he said. "There are a lot of parallels between now and the 1950s, such as conformism, repression of speech. The Beats were a counter to that – Ginsberg was an openly gay poet with a Communist mother connected to the radical left."

Martin Halliwell, professor of American studies at the University of Leicester and author of American Culture in the 1950s, agreed.

"These new films emphasise that tensions between conformity and personal freedom are as resonant now as they were in the 1950s," he said. "On the Road celebrates unconstrained freedom but ends up back in the north-east, where the journey began, and Howl sees both sexual freedom and social destruction inscribed on the bodies of the young."

Nick James, the editor of the British Film Institute's Sight and Sound magazine, added that the 1950s were ripe for re-examination.

"The 1950s have a habit of coming back every once in a while," he said. "Before, it might have been Elvis or rock'n'roll. This may be the moment to look at the rougher side of the 1950s."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week