Why You Should Listen to The National's Score for Jack Kerouac's 'Big Sur'...the Movie

By Maria Jean Sullivan on Nov 22, 2013 07:11 PM EST

Jack Kerouac's 1962 novel Big Sur, a surrealist account of the author's alcoholic drownings in search of solace on the coveted central Californian coast, opened at Cinema Village earlier this month--tranquilizing the pretentious quips about the film's assumed failure as an adapted big screen picture.

Having key elements of the novel come to life visually is clutch for director Micheal Polish, whose personal touches flicker throughout the screenplay. Kate Bosworth's delicate beauty and angelic golden strands are the perfect physical traits for the broken Billie, Neal Cassady's mistress whom he reluctantly "gifted" to Kerouac. Jean-Marc Barr takes on the sad, sappy sucker role of Kerouac, himself, performing on par, as though ritualistic. Barr's portrayal of Kerouac's erratic emotions pour out of the screen and onto the apprehensive viewer.

The score for the film, by bookish Brooklyn-based rockers The National, was an obvious choice.

Co-founding twin brothers Bryce and Aaron Dessner--whose C.V. includes curating BAM's Crossing Brooklyn Ferry Fest AND the Kronos Quartet (with Bryce) release of Ahem--have long found inspiration in Jackie K. To wit, Bryce wrote an orchestral piece entitled "St. Carolyn By the Sea", inspired by Big Sur...the novel.  

The Dessner's score, structured around the narrative of Kerouac's three visits to poet Lawrence Ferlenghetti’s cabin in Bixby Canyon, is fastidiously moving, ping-ponging off of the dialogue like rambling jazz rifts--perpetuating the alcohol-induced hysteria of the original text.

The only potential downfall of the film (and maybe the score, too) is the speed at which the sad-cum-happy ending takes shape. Mike Polish closed the film with staggering scenes of redwoods and waves, crashing in tune with Kerouac's winded last lines:

"Something good will come out of all things yet
And it will be golden and eternal just like that
There's no need to say another word."

Moments later, Dessners be damned, Billie tells Kerouac that he's, quote, "a fucking neurotic."

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TagsJack Kerouac, Big Sur, Ross Smirnoff, Maria Jean Sullivan, Bryce Dessner, Kronos Quartet, Deutsche Grammophon, BAM, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry

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