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The Making of “Jack on Film”

August 28th, 2022 · 13 Comments · Kerouac and The Beats, Movies

The Making of “Jack on Film”



Believe it or not this whole thing started when I got a call on January 12th, 2021 — six days after the Capitol insurrection (!) and still deep in the pandemic lockdown daze.  A musician friend I’ve known since 1976, Will Hodgson, was home with his kids during the day and had “The View” on in the background, and he heard, to his jaw-dropped surprise, John McCain’s daughter Meghan quoting Kerouac!

“Trump also said he takes no responsibility for what happened at the Capitol, and that he doesn’t believe any of his language or anything he said incited anything.  And honestly, the first thing I thought of was a Jack Kerouac quote (!)  —  ‘There’s no end to this madness and American sadness, American madness and sadness.’  It’s absolute lunacy.”

And the extra double doozy is — it’s a pretty obscure line — from The Scroll version of On The Road no less (p. 206) — Somebody had tipped the American continent like a pinball machine and all the goofballs had come rolling to LA in the southwest corner.  I cried for all of us.  There was no end to the American sadness and the American madness.”

The whole thing was so bizarre I knew I had to notify some West Coast Beats who could still catch it with the 3-hour time change.  I emailed Jerry Cimino at The Beat Museum, and John Cassady, then thought I’d give ol’ S.A. Griffin a call in L.A. since he’s also one who loves when the Beats show up in weird places in American culture where you’d least expect it.

We got to jammin all sortsa things, as always, including a deep dive into movies, which I’d been studying the hell out of for the last year, and we wove around to discussing the different portrayals of Jack on the big screen.

After we hung up, the conversation kept echoing in my head, and it hit me we could do a great show on this!  —  sort of a Siskel & Ebert in the balcony, where we’d play a clip of the movie, and the two cinephiles would jam back and forth on it.

On The Road 50th anniversary Los Angeles S.A. Griffin Brian Hassett

I called him back and bounced the show off him and he thought it would be fun.  We’ve shared stages on and off over the years starting with the 50th anniversary of Jack writing On The Road in 2001 (above), through doing a Kesey–Cassady–Kerouac show at Beyond Baroque in Venice Beach in 2019.

Brian Hassett George Walker S.A. Griffin Beyond Baroque Venice Beach

The idea started to take off, so I wrote up a proposal for it, and pitched it to Lowell Celebrates Kerouac (LCK) — the obvious place to do it.  And I even knew the timeslot — 7:00 on Sunday night.  They’d screened the Loving Vincent movie there on a Sunday and it really seemed to be the perfect programming.  After four days of nonstop high-paced madness, kickin’ back and watchin a movie on Sunday night was the exact thing people wanted to do.

In pretty quick order the show got accepted for that October, and I began sketching out the basic framework, including a list of all the movies we’d discuss, and notes about angles and themes.

I also started asking around to people who’ve spent 40 years or more immersed in all-things-Jack-&-Beat and nobody had ever heard of a show like this ever being done anywhere.

But by the late summer for 2021, Covid was still raging, and airplane travel was cited as a source of transmission, and with S.A. being in his 60s, the idea of flying from L.A., and all the people he’d have to be in close contact with in so many different places, he was having a hard time coming to a full commitment.  Then the Delta variant starting surging, and that was that.

So we cancelled out of doing it in 2021 — but the seed had been planted and the timeslot seemed ideal.  LCK eventually decided to hold a scaled back festival that year with all the events taking place outdoors — which wouldn’t have worked for our show anyway.

After the 2021 fest played out, I bounced the idea off LCK and they loved the idea and thought it was perfect for Sunday night, and assuming 2021 was a transition year back to normal, we should be rockin it for Jack’s centennial in 2022.

I knew I needed video tech help to create the clips to play during the show.  I remembered this young guy who’d come to LCK a couple years earlier and made his own Jack on Film documentary about it.  Through the wonders of Facebook, I was able to make a pretty good educated guess as to who that kid was — Julian Ortman — and I sent him a message:  “Hey man!  You’re the film guy, aren’t you?  You made a doc at LCK one year, right?”

And he wrote right back, “That’s me!  Absolutely.  How can I be of service?

And the kindness of that answer changed my life.

If we all answered more often, “How can I be of service?” what a wonderful world it would be.  😉

Suddenly I had a collaborator who could do the techie video editing stuff that I couldn’t.  He does this for a living, and I know he loves Jack cuz he travelled to Lowell to celebrate him and make a movie about him, and when we did our first video-chat two minutes later, behind his beaming smiling “gets-it” face was a Grateful Dead poster hanging on the wall!  And I’m thinkin, “Weir gonna get along juuust fine.”  🙂

So, now I had a tech guy who knew how grab a clip out of a movie and put things together on the video front.  I already had the basic list of films — Pull My Daisy, The Subterraneans, and knew I wanted to touch on Route 66, and then there’s Heart Beat and Naked Lunch and Beat Angel and The Last Time I Committed Suicide and that other Neal Cassady movie, and then there’s The Big Three from 2013 — On The Road, Kill Your Darlings and Big Sur — and thus began the process of watching all those movies again and isolating the scenes that best showcased the portrayal of Jack.

As this was really starting to take shape, I knew I had to have all the production exactly right.

The historic 1834 Worthen House in Lowell is actually on the National Register of Historic Places!  It’s the oldest bar in town, so of course ol’ Jack himself had tipped back a few there, and it has this cool pulley-driven fan system hanging from the ceiling — one of only four still in existence in America, and the only one in its original location.  The ol’ Worthan’s been Camp Kerouac’s Clubhouse since Jacksters began gathering in the ’80s, filling its huge main floor, plus there’s a big second floor performance room, and a well-used Reality Alley outdoor space.  It was key that I had everything running smoothly in this nearly 200-year-old building doing a high-tech show that’s never been done before.

The Merry Pranksters meet Jack Kerouac at Ye Old Worthen House in Lowell, Mass.

As everything began to take shape in early 2022, I got back in touch with ol’ S.A. in L.A., and got an unexpected call from him one day saying, “Y’know, Brian, you’ve got a vision for this thing, and you should just run with it.”  He wanted to do more of a broad Beats-in-culture type show.  But this was not only a Jack festival — it was the old boy’s 100th birthday year.  This was the time and place to celebrate “Jack on Film.”  Maybe next year we could do a “Beats in Culture” show — but on Ti Jean’s centennial … in Lowell … we really oughta do the homeboy right.

So, ol’ S.A. bowed out.  Maybe we’ll do something down The Road, but I was bummed cuz he knows more about film than just about anybody I know, and our two-person two-hour phone jams would make most engaging theater.  But we didn’t share the same vision — and neither of us wanted to spend the next six months arguing over what this would be.  I told him, if this goes well, I can be the Siskel to his Ebert if he wants to do a “Beats in Culture” show in the future.  He has nearly a hundred screen credits, taught at the American Film Institute, and we both crack each other up, so we’d make a great stage duo, but you gotta play a song you can both harmonize on.

I was scared my tech master Julian, who’d already put in a hundred hours on this thing, might cool his interest, but in keeping with his initial, “How can I be of service?” he wrote me, “It is your vision!  Whatever I can do to help get it from your head to on-screen, I’m here for it and along for the ride.”  (!)  Whadda guy!  That’s the kind of creative partner you wanna have in life!

LCK was still cool with it cuz they’d seen me pack the rooms and knock it outta the park for five years, and as brother Cliff said, “We’ve been talking about making Sunday night ‘Movie Night’ for a while — and you’re taking it to the next level!”

Without a stage partner to banter with, I came up with the idea to make the audience my co-host — that I can lead the conversation, but I know there’s gonna be a ton of smart Jack & film people in the room — so, how fun would it be to let other people jam in?!

Then I had another idea.  I have an actor friend, Frank Tabbita, who has a line to one of the actors who best portrayed Jack in one of the films.  What if we could Zoom him into the room?!  One email later, I was on the phone with Vincent Balestri!  —  and we hit it off like peas and carrots!  Boom!  Done!

Then another great stalwart at LCK, Mike Flynn, put on a summer show upstairs at the Worthen where he used a giant projection screen, and the lightbulb went on in ol’ Cliff’s head.  Ah-ha!  Mike Flynn needs to be Brian’s in-house tech guy to make this happen.  And Jack’s-your-uncle, suddenly Mike and I were locked in on the video staging front.

Then once again The Good ol’ Grateful Dead rode in to add another dimension to the surreality!  The great Phil Lesh, my favorite living musician, who only ever does shows at the Capitol Theater outside New York or somewhere close to his homebase of San Francisco, was suddenly doing a half-dozen one-off non-coastal shows this 2022 summer for the first time in ten years.  And one of them was going to be at an apple orchard?!?!  . . .  in the Finger Lakes no less, not too far from me!  And to go even Furthur — my good friends the Magic Genie and her camera-eyed partner Rick live right near there and offered to have me over and throw a party and put on some shows at their Wonderland estate on the side of a lake!  Besides being a whole mess-o-fun — it also gave me a chance to do a test run of something we needed to have right for “Jack on Film” — a live-stream on YouTube.

And one thing that show taught me was — you can’t rely on wifi for uploading longform live video.  You’ve got to be hard-wired in.  So when Mike, Cliff and I did a FaceTime video walk-through of the venue, we confirmed they have an ethernet connection in the room, so I bought a splitter switch box that we can turn into two hard-wires — one for the live-stream and one for the Zoom call.

The tech side of things were really starting to come together.

Julian, meanwhile, had been editing the various clips from the notes I’d been sending him, like — “At 1:15:37 — gradual fade in so the first clear visual is Jack saying, “Well, what do you suggest? . . . then fade out just after Burroughs says, “First time I ever heard of it.”

I was targeting up to four of the best Jack scenes in each film, with the idea that if we had the best three or four clips, once we started to run through the show, we could go with whichever one, two or three would best represent the performance.

So, all the clips were coming together, and then as I continued my deep dive into these cinematic treasures, I uncovered some film & TV gems that 99% of Jack fans probably don’t even know exist, and even if they’ve heard of them, they’ve almost certainly never seen them.  I’m not going to mention ’em here cuz they’re gonna make for some great mid-show surprises.  😉

Then the next cool thing was — there was a 2007 movie called Neal Cassady with Tate Donovan as Neal and a guy named Glenn Fitzgerald playing Jack.  The thing about this movie is — it’s never been released in any form on home video.  So, you can’t buy a copy, and consequently nobody’s ever bootlegged it to one of the many underground movie sites.  I’m pretty savvy about finding rare films in secret places — and so’s my 26-year-old wiz-kid partner Julian — and neither of us could find this anywhere.

"Neal Cassady" Tate Donovan movie poster

As karmic luck would have it, many years ago when I still had the Sundance Channel, they aired it one day, and wisely I popped in a VHS tape and recorded it!  So I bought a VHS-to-digi converter and was able to grab the best scene to include in the show — the Prankster party in New York in ’64 where Jack & Neal saw each other for the last time — the only time it was ever dramatized on film.

And then when I FB posted about this development, a film-biz brother I met at George Walker’s 80th birthday weekend in Sebastopol California, Aslan Davis, chimed in that he could A.I. 4K upscale some of this, including Beat Angel, which has never seen the light of hi-def!  😉 

And THEN as I was writing these words you just read, it hit me — we need to have a poster for this thing!  And within hours the brilliant visual artist and lifelong Jackster and Deadhead, Sunny Days, was on the case!

Today is six weeks till showtime — and things are comin together!  💖



Postscript Edit Update —

Here’s a bunch of the show from the YouTube live-stream —

And here’s an edit of a bunch of the first half via videographer Mitch Corber —


Here’s the live stream of “Jack on Film: Take 2” from LCK 2023 including the interview with Big Sur director Michael Polish —


Here’s a rollicking interview on WCAP in Lowell about the “Take 2” show and Jack’s enduring legacy including nearly 100 photos illuminating the story —


Here’s a Facebook event page for the “Jack on Film” show on October 9th.

Here’s a definitive story of Lowell Celebrates Kerouac that’s been performed live all over the continent.

Here’s the tale of my first LCK in 2015 with Michael McClure, Tony Sampas & the Kansas Kid.

Here’s the story of Jack’s 100th birthday party in Lowell, March, 2022.

And if you like movies and the Beats — here’s The Beat Movie Guide.

Or here’s a helluva great Jack Adventure Tale about the time “more of us were together than had ever been in one place at one time before,” according to John Clellon Holmes.

The cover of The Hitchhiker's Guide to Jack Kerouac by Brian Hassett

Or here’s a book where you can read more about Jack, Lowell, the Merry Pranksters and Phil Lesh.

Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, George Walker – The Beats and the Merry Pranksters



by Brian Hassett   —

Or here’s my Facebook page if you wanna join in there —

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13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Richard Modiano // Aug 28, 2022 at 1:30 PM

    Terrific Brian! Much needed research.

  • 2 Sunny Days // Aug 28, 2022 at 2:51 PM

    That’s exciting! I was just listening to “October in the Railroad Earth” and was thinking about how I need to go re read some of your books again.

  • 3 Lisa Kezios // Aug 28, 2022 at 3:46 PM

    This is fantastic!

  • 4 Jon McEntyre // Aug 28, 2022 at 4:12 PM

    Keep on keepin’ on, Brian!

  • 5 Guylaine Knupp // Aug 28, 2022 at 4:50 PM

    Looking forward to it!

  • 6 Don Groble // Aug 28, 2022 at 5:19 PM


  • 7 Gubba // Aug 28, 2022 at 5:57 PM

    The story never stops … it goes on and on … getting better and better.

  • 8 Bill Laymon // Aug 28, 2022 at 10:08 PM


  • 9 Patty Cake // Aug 28, 2022 at 11:36 PM


  • 10 James Aurelia // Aug 29, 2022 at 12:33 PM

    Hey! This coincides w/ our 5 yr wedding anniversary! We’d love to come up!

  • 11 Brian // Aug 29, 2022 at 2:17 PM

    Cool! Love to see you two! There’s gonna be a passel of our old Prankster pals present.

  • 12 Spirit Mentalist // Aug 31, 2022 at 10:22 PM

    Let the Test begin!

  • 13 Marci Sherell Zabell // Oct 2, 2022 at 11:37 AM

    Ooooo Brian — please save one of those posters for me, signed of course!

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