Friday, September 14, 2012

'On the Road' producer Rebecca Yeldham, mentions Kristen

La productrice de 'Sur la Route' Rebecca Yeldham, mentionne Kristen

Yeldham - who, in contrast to Rivera, says the novel had a profound influence on her view of the world when she was about the same age as its main characters, even prompting her to leave Australia and seek new experiences - believes part of the strategy for getting it right this time around was making a conscious decision "not to read all the pre-existing scripts". There was also that business of going back to the scroll version - "back to brass tacks" as she puts it.

The other key was the long-term involvement - the project took more than eight years - of all its key members, including its quite phenomenal cast.

Adolescent fantasy object Kristen Stewart, made a starlet in recent years by the Twilight franchise, may seem a surprise choice for Cassady's wandering lover Marylou, but Yeldham points out Stewart came on board well before she was catapulted into the Hollywood stratosphere. Her subsequent success "became a real driver for us, to be able to put the financing together", she says. "Her dedication to this was really important to our ability to get the film made."

Yeldham describes the entire cast and crew relationship as "like a rolling stone that just kept gathering the most delicious moss; actors just wanted to be part of this experience".

She says at that age she was only beginning to fully understand how, as a woman "one could be prejudiced against; I was reading the book through that lens, without really having a full understanding of the context in which the book was written, and how radical, in retrospect, these women were."

Or, as Rivera puts it with regard to the "limitations" he saw in the book: "That's one of them: that female characters tend to be used, they get pregnant, they get left behind. I really wanted in the screenplay to make them a little more equal to the guys, in terms of their own personal rebellion and their own desires."

On the other hand, Yeldham points out, what the book captures magnificently is a bewitching and romantic version of America; it's driven through with the mystique of the place that persuaded her more than 20 years ago to pick up sticks and leave Sydney.

"As a young person growing up back home, I had this sense of this majestic sprawling poetic landscape - and I guess I'd derived that from literature and cinema - that the book just completely captured," she said. "And it's no surprise for me that [the US] is the place I ended up, not Europe, and not elsewhere."

But scouting locations for the film revealed a "bittersweet" truth: that the America Kerouac portrayed barely exists any more. "Even in the 20 years since I've been over here, it's changed," Yeldham says. "You have to really make a deeply concerted effort to get off the road to find the byways beneath the highways, to discover an America that's outside of the Walmartification that's bulldozed through this country. I think that what's so striking about the book is the specificity of cultures within the culture - it's so nuanced, and each town brings new discoveries, each town brings a new dialect and new ways of wearing clothes and new ways of looking at the world, and that's just not the case any more."

Yeldham is passionate on her topic. She describes On the Road as "a love letter to the sprawling nature of America as a character in the story"; as a result, she points out, the movie could never have been made on a Hollywood backlot. It had to be shot on the road, literally. Accordingly, Kerouac's obsession with the sweep of the continent and the energy of its people is captured on a huge scale.

"You have a passage of locations, from the cities of New York and Denver and San Francisco, to the bayous, to the wide open plains, from the mountains to the valleys," she says. "So we had to really travel far afield, and structure the production with multiple hubs, in order to realise that grandeur and sprawl."

There was a four-year development process, she says, even before casting began, "because Walter [Salles] was very conscious of the fact that he was not American, and it was an iconic American text [Salles is Brazilian]. He really wanted to not only fully immerse himself in the world of the story and the generation that gave rise to it, and its socio-political context, but he wanted to meet those that had been around Jack and Neal, those that were still alive, those that remembered, those that could help him contextualise it, and also crisscross the country, searching for the America that was articulated in the book - such as it still exists."

The quest for authenticity gained heightened intensity once the cast came together; Rivera tells of a "beatnik boot camp" Salles conducted for several weeks in Montreal. "He got an apartment building, and everyone in the cast lived there," the writer says. "He hired a cook to cook for everybody, and for several weeks had different people who were experts in the beat culture come and talk to the cast. So they all lived together, they ate together, they took dancing lessons together, they watched movies together, they listened to jazz records together, they listened to lectures together.

"I was there early on, so I worked on the script with the cast, we played games, we got drunk together; it was a real bonding situation, and the growing friendship between Sam and Garrett and Tom really began there - and also Kristen, who was just one of the boys after a while. Really that all just started there and kept on going."

No one could make a credible On the Road without treating seriously the poetic language Kerouac found to write it with - after years of wrestling with its style - and the often outrageous behaviour of its central characters, given how intent they were on tearing down the social mores of an America finding its way into a new, postwar existence.

Rivera's script certainly pulls no punches on that front. "[The beat poets] were pioneers," he enthuses. "They were living in communes before there were communes, they were white guys going up to Harlem to listen to the jazz when no other white people were doing that, they were experimenting with what they called free love, they were obviously doing a lot of drugs, experimenting with homosexuality, and they were just breaking taboos left and right.

"And it's not that they woke up one morning and said, let's make a revolution. They just lived life, and the rest of the country kind of caught on."

The fact that Kerouac's voice was so distinctive, among an entire movement of distinctive voices, was also an important element to capture. "Whatever the novel was at the time, he kind of strangled it, killed it and turned it into something else," Rivera says.

"The jazziness, the stream-of-consciousness style, the rhythms he created, the riffs that he wrote, that kind of subconscious attempt to turn writing into music, was what really set him apart. And you know, a lot of people don't like it, a lot of people then and even now can't stand it. But you can't deny that it was a revolution in form."

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