Despite mixed reaction at Cannes, one of the films I’ve been most looking forward to all year has been Walter Salles’s “On the Road.” It’s set to play Toronto next month, and I have heard that Tom Luddy — one of the Telluride Film Festival co-founders and co-directors — is high on the film, so it could pop up there, too (fingers crossed). But as it turns out, it won’t be the version seen on the Croisette in May.
Indiewire’s Jay Fernandez sat down with IFC Films president Jonathan Sehring recently, and amid a bunch of talk about the film being “an opportunity [he] couldn’t pass up” and apparently loving it just the way it is (“for us it’s a step up”), it seems Salles went back to the cutting room and came out with a new cut. According to Sehring, this was the filmmaker’s decision, as he took a lot of the summer reactions to heart.
The new cut “is about 15 minutes shorter,” Sehring tells Fernandez. “It”s a little over two hours now. He”s added certain things that weren”t in the cut that was in Cannes. He has been in New York and Rio and L.A. working on it the past couple of months, and it”s going to be very wet when it gets to Toronto. We”re locked, but they”re finishing the mix up right now.”
Well, yikes. If they’re finishing the mix up now, maybe there’s too much of a time crunch to get it up to Colorado first. In any case, I hope the original cut isn’t lost to the winds and will become available at some point. It did, after all, have passionate champions and I got the vibe I might take to it based on what I read at the time.
Guy, however, was not one of those champions. Calling the film an “assiduous, attractive and somewhat airless adaptation” of Kerouac’s novel, he seemed to chafe at the interpretation’s inherent disavowal of the beat classic’s wandering spirit.
“Salles and his ‘Motorcycle Diaries’ screenwriter Jose Rivera have fashioned a distinctly unspontaneous film from a text about going where the road takes you, a paean to madness that never once loses its mind,” he wrote at the time. “Perhaps it’s the book’s general bleeding into any number of pop-culture avenues, then, that makes the final arrival of a straight adaptation feel so much less totemic than this faintly self-awed film purports to be.”
As if to emboss the split reaction, Drew McWeeny had a slightly different point of view. In noting that the film “mostly gets it right,” he wrote that Salles and Rivera “managed to make something that has a pulse of its own…When you see it onscreen, without the cascading power of Kerouac’s meth-driven language, it seems smaller somehow, less ‘important,’ but Salles certainly can’t be faulted for how he approached it. His ‘On The Road’ has a real heartbeat, and it’s a trip worth making.”
Whether Guy’s take is valid or not, or whether Drew’s forgiveness of its approach is appropriate, I don’t know. And whether the new version addresses concerns like Guy’s, I don’t know that, either. But I hope whatever comes out the other side of this re-edit is at least not merely the results of an attempt to satiate one sect of an overall reaction that was somewhat split. I’m sure Salles is smart and maybe took this or that as constructive. And art is a process until it’s complete — which, it never is. But I’m looking forward to it, whatever it ends up being.
“On the Roads” opens nationwide December 21.