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On The Road Again

January 15, 2013 | by

A dirt road scrolls beneath a pair of huarache sandals. In a flash, it turns from moonlit to sunlit, and the pebbly dirt smoothes to bleached, cracked concrete. The shot lingers three or four beats longer than it should, the camera gliding over the road as the sandals flop and their owner huffs. Cue title card. This sequence—the opening shots of Walter Salles’s wildly uneven, flickeringly vivid new film adaptation of On The Road—foregrounds the oft-overlooked double entendre nested in the novel’s title: it is both a romantic portrait of life “on the road” and a ruminative discourse on roads. Later in the film occurs a similar shot, this time of the highway’s surface streaking by like a meteor shower, as Sal Paradise intones: “The purity of the road. The white line in the middle of the highway unrolled and hugged our left front tire as if glued to our groove. And zoom went the car, and we were off again, to California.”

Throughout the book, Kerouac expresses awe at the vast interconnectedness that the American road system allows—an epiphany so common it barely registers for modern readers. But half a century ago, it still struck with a bright clang.Read More »

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