Curt Worden’s new film One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur is an attempt to put the Beat novelist’s memoir Big Sur in perspective. Worden not only interviews people who knew Kerouac during that time but also musicians, writers and actors who cite him as an influence. Featuring songs by Son Volt’s Jay Farrar and Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, the film is as much a beautiful tribute to the writer as it is a documentary about his life. It shows at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 27 at the Cedar Lee Theatre and has just come out on DVD. Wurden spoke via phone from Los Angeles where he had just seen a concert in which Gibbard and Farrar performed the songs from the soundtrack.
Your film starts with the premise that if you think Jack Kerouac was constantly on the road, you don't know Jack. Did you make the film in order to dispel assumptions about Kerouac's life?
I think dispelling those assumptions is inherent when you start telling those stories in more depth. On the Road is not the book that is the end all and be all of what Jack Kerouac is about. Sure, it’s the one that once it was reviewed positively, ended up giving the Beat Generation moniker, but the reality is that there is so much more to the man.
So Kerouac ended up at Big Sur to get away from hangers-on but from what you show in the film, it looks like he just spent a good deal of time up there drinking.
Well, the guy had a lot of demons. He had a lot of things going on. First of all, he didn’t want to be the king of the Beats but he was. He had these people clinging on him and thought he could get away from it. He was searching for his voice in writing. He hadn’t written anything significantly in recent time leading up to Big Sur. He thought the solitude was a way to deal with it. The reality is that he was a people person. He liked being around people. He didn’t enjoy the isolation.
You have several segments of the film that include readings of Kerouac's prose. Talk about why you wanted to have so much of Kerouac’s writing in the film.
That’s the beauty of Jack Kerouac. He expressed himself through his writing. The strength of the body of work that he left behind is that prose. In order to really understand him, you have to hear it and allow it to wash over you. There are many layers to telling the story. There are the interviews with people talking about him. There is the first person narration. And there are lyrics of the music, which are taken from the book.
Tom Waits says he's a "musical writer." Was that something that you tried to bring out in your film?
First of all, I should say that our job as documentary filmmakers is to listen. There are 31 people in the cast. We asked them questions and listened to them. Often, the music questions came up. People like musical artists like Tom Waits and Patti Smith were relating to him. Music became very important. When you have a Tom Waits or Robert hunter saying he’s a musical writer, you can see that. It’s that spontaneous prose and style that gives it that rhythm.
The soundtrack is a big part of the film and we even see segments of Jay Farrar playing the songs he wrote for the film and Ben Gibbard being interviewed. Talk about what those guys brought to the movie.
Oh, they brought amazing depth to the film. Music in movies is a fundamental necessity. Sometimes it’s the fundamental driver. These guys interpreted Jack. Jay Farrar wrote remarkable soundtrack songs. We saw the show for the first time last night and there were 12 songs written and in the movie there are only three or four. Their contribution was great. The bottom line is that both these guys are huge Kerouac fans. Their work is inspired by him.
How complicated was Kerouac’s relationship with Neal Cassady and what approach did you take toward it?
First, Jack’s relationship with most people was complicated. With Neal, he started with the trip on the road and they shared a lot of life experiences. He also had a relationship with [Neal’s] wife Caroline and they were an item. There was a triangle. Then, you also had this experimental stuff happening at that time. They are not conformists. They’re transient. Exploring that in the film was important primarily because Caroline Cassady is alive and she can tell the story and what the deal is with these two guys. She says it was good for me. And let’s face it, these are two hunky, good looking guys so it was good for her. In Big Sur, which takes place in the summer of 1960 for six weeks, Neal had just gotten out of jail for selling two joints and Jack was a little apprehensive to see Neal after that experience. He hadn’t talked to him or visited him in jail. It was an interesting dynamic.
In the final moments of the film we’re told Kerouac continues to have relevance. Can you talk about that a bit?
The kids are still reading him. There’s something there that’s remarkable enough that people keep buying this book. On the Road was written in the early ’50s, published in 1957 and still today sells 100,000 copies a year. There has to be something there that people are relating to, whether you’re young or old. I think the timing for this film is great. With the economic recession and coming out of rampant consumerism, people are reevaluating themselves. They’re asking what’s meaningful and real. Jack did that his entire life and there may be something in his work that gives them inspiration to deal with their own lives. He leaves a lot behind for people today.