Dan Barth

Go Moan for Man: Review


Directed by Doug Sharples
Produced by Judi Sharples
Real Films, 1999

Click here to see Dan Barth's interview with Director Doug Sharples.

In Part Five of On the Road, Jack Kerouac writes, "In the fall I myself started back home from Mexico City and one night just over the Laredo border in Dilley, Texas, I was standing on the hot road underneath an arc-lamp with the summer moths smashing into it when I heard the sounds of footsteps from the darkness beyond, and lo, a tall old man with flowing white hair came clomping by with a pack on his back, and when he saw me as he passed, he said, 'Go moan for man,' and clomped on back to his dark."

Taking their direction and central image from this passage, South Dakota filmmakers Doug and Judi Sharples invested a large portion of their money and their lives in this documentary about Kerouac's life and writing. Seventeen years in the making, Go Moan for Man premiered on October 23, 1999 at the Orlando Celebrates Kerouac Festival in Orlando, Florida.

At just over two hours long, Go Moan divides rather neatly into two segments. The first and longer chronicles Kerouac's life and writings from his childhood in Lowell, Massachusetts through his road years and the publication of his many books, and ends with his death in 1969 at St. Anthony's Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida. Black and white re-creations with voice-over narration by Don Lane and actors playing the parts of Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Neal Cassady and others are mixed with color footage of the Kerouac road as it looks today. Also mixed in are interviews with friends and associates of Kerouac—Ginsberg, Edie Parker, Joyce Johnson, David Amram, Sterling Lord, Gary Snyder, John Montgomery, Ed Sanders—and with Kerouac scholars Ann Charters, John Tytell, Gerald Nicosia, Dennis McNally, Regina Weinreich and others.

The second part of the film traces the state of Kerouac studies and scholarship from the 1982 On the Road conference in Boulder, Colorado through the 1988 dedication of the Kerouac Memorial in Lowell, the 1994 Beat Generation conference at New York University and the influential Whitney Museum show on the Beat Generation and American culture. Recent interviews with John Sampas, executor of Kerouac's literary estate, and Douglas Brinkley, who is editing Kerouac's journals for publication, round out the picture.

The Lowell section of the movie includes charming re-creations of Kerouac's early childhood. Ivan Barnett, Jamie Jackson and Joseph Barnett play the parts of Jack, his sister Caroline and his brother Gerard. It's really nicely done, with childhood games and goofs and cats—little Gerard teaching Ti Jean to be kind.

Lonnie Fischer as Neal CassadyThe road years, with Bill Mabon as handsome young Jack, are seen as the shaping influence on the novels. Kerouac is shown writing in his pocket notebooks and pounding away on his old Underwood typewriter. Virtually all of Kerouac's homes and haunts are visited, among them New York, New Orleans, San Francisco, Mexico City, Liverpool, London, Paris, Brest and Tangier. There is some great footage of the high country of Mexico's Sierra Madre that really gets across "the magic land at the end of the road" Kerouac and Cassady discovered. Mabon's Kerouac hits just the right note, a mixture of introspection and enthusiasm. Lonnie Fisher as Cassady is less successful, seen driving intently but never talking. Geoffrey Gray-Lobe as William Burroughs is dead-on, adjusting his glasses as he takes aim with his gun.

Another great scene, shot from atop Starvation Ridge, Kerouac's Forest Service lookout, includes awesome shots of Mount Hozomeen, "the Void" that dominated Kerouac's view and mind during his time alone on the mountaintop. This segment includes what is undoubtedly the first upsidedown Mt. Hozomeen scene in film history. Peter Lownds reads passages from Kerouac's work during this and other scenes.

Kerouac himself is seen and heard in his 1959 appearance on The Steve Allen Show. "How do you define "beat?" asks Allen. "Well . . .sympathetic," is Kerouac's answer. Go Moan For Man is a beat film, treating Kerouac's life and work with great sympathy and understanding, at the same time striving to be thorough and authentic. It is certainly a valuable film, one that succeeds both as a biographical impression—Sharple's Kerouac—and as a documentation of Kerouac's importance and influence as an artist, a great 20th century American writer.


In November 1999 Go Moan For Man was shown at an international documentary film festival in Amsterdam. Early in 2000 it will go into theatrical distribution, playing at theatre, college and museum venues in Europe and the U. S.. It is scheduled for video release in late 2000. For more information contact Real Films, P. O. Box 476, Wakonda, SD 57073, (605) 267-2859, FAX: (605) 267-2017. On the web: www.RealFilms.net/ or e-mail moan@RealFilms.net.

© by Dan Barth
Photos used with permissions by Real Films

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