There's a new movie making the rounds of the film festivals called Beat Angel, a film starring Vincent Balestri. Many of you have undoubtedly seen Vincent on stage as he has been touring the country doing his one-man show about Jack Kerouac for close to twenty years. Thank goodness we all had the good fortune that Vincent hooked up with Randy Allred and Frank Tabbita and Bruce Boyle to capture forever on film his magnificent performance as Jack Kerouac. Beat Angel is in search of a distributor now.
I've seen probably every film on Kerouac and the Beats and while there are many good ones, Beat Angel is unique in the sense it is not a documentary but a full-length feature and it is done superbly. I think the reason I like it so much is I found kindred spirits in Vincent and the other people involved in the making of this film -- and the reason is because they tried to convey, and indeed succeeded in capturing on film, the Spirit that Jack brought to his art.
We first see Vincent as an alcoholic bum on the street and immediately learn that he is destined to die the next day and that the spirit of Jack Kerouac will enter his "meat machine" body and pass on the flame to an inspired yet cynical writer named Gerard (Frank Tabbita) whose hidden writings must be seen by the world so the flame can continue to be passed on and on and on. Gerard can not accept that the spirit of Jack Kerouac has returned to earth and spars with Kerouac continuously ('my brother Gerard was a saint') in a series of showdowns that take him from Kerouac's football glory days with the re-creation of the famous Thanksgiving Day game that introduced Jack to Lou Little and Columbia to the top of Desolation Peak and the beauty of Hozomeen and the void.
The highlight of Beat Angel, of course, is Balestri's interpretation of Jack. The genius of this film is the producers allowed the talent that has been delighting audiences all over North America for twenty years free reign to express -- and express he did! Vince's message from Kerouac is "speak from your heart". "Speak your truth," Jack tells us. "Live your truth!"
Vincent speaks Jack's truth in scene after scene, intermixing his own formidable talents with the messages so many of us love about Kerouac. In one ten minute scene at the Poetry Slam the spirit of Jack in the bum's body delights the onscreen audience by telling about how it all began with the sound of Charlie Parker and then the rap of Neal Cassady. I was sitting next to Neal's son, John, at the time and he was enthralled while watching Vincent's interpretation of his father, "That's Neal! He's got Neal down perfect!" And then I saw something I have rarely ever seen at a movie screening -- the entire audience erupted in applause during the MIDDLE of the performance! It was a magical moment that those of us who know a lot about these people and these times understood to be a true appreciation of brilliant talents expressing in a magnificent way.
I'm looking forward to the day, hopefully soon, when Beat Angel secures distribution and is available for all to see either on the big screen or on video.