Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tribeca ’11: Love Always, Carolyn

If you are considering watching her documentary, Carolyn Cassady thinks you are kind of an idiot. She has no illusions regarding people’s interest in her. Frankly, it is not about her at all, but the men she was romantically involved with: Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac. However, Ms. Cassady is never shy correcting the myths and legends about the beats she knew so well in Maria Ramström and Malin Korkeasalo’s Love Always, Carolyn (trailer here), which screens again today at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival.

In the mid 1940’s, Carolyn Robinson was studying theater arts at the University of Denver, a first class, under-rated private liberal arts college (with a graduate certificate program in publishing your trusted blogger attended). Fatefully, Robinson’s promising career was sidetracked when she met the magnetic Cassady, now renowned as the model for On the Road’s Dean Moriarty. A whirlwind romance, marriage, friendship with Kerouac, and a whole mess of drama would follow.

After the substance-related deaths of both men, Carolyn Cassady quickly tired of answering the same stupid questions over and over again. She relocated to England, where she wrote her own memoir in an attempt to have her definitive say on the Beat icons that had come to define her life. However, her son John Allen Cassady somehow convinces her to return to Denver for the 50th anniversary celebration of On the Road.

Indeed, Cassady is still sharp as a tack. Euphemisms like “does not suffer fools gladly” are wholly insufficient. Perhaps most annoying to her is the unlicensed use of her famous copyrighted pictures of Kerouac and Cassady, which have become symbols of literary bromance. Of course, she is well within her rights to be upset, especially since those pictures have supplied her retirement nest-egg.

One of the cooler aspects of Always is its surprising emphasis on the roles Denver and DU played in Beat history. However, it is a real head-scratcher that Ramström and Korkeasalo did not reach out more to the great jazz-multi-hyphenated musician David Amram, who is seen briefly in performance as part of the anniversary fest, as either an interview subject or soundtrack composer. He is one of the last real deal cats who was on the Beat scene, having collaborated on Pull My Daisy and he has composed some distinctive scores, including The Manchurian Candidate. (In my experience, he is certainly approachable.) In contrast, Jan Strand’s soundtrack is serviceable, but snoozy.

Among fans, the appetite for all things Beat is eternal. For the less ravenous, Always is a bit long, even at seventy minutes. It is well worth hearing Cassady have her say, but a short doc around half an hour ought to cover it sufficiently. Definitely for self-selecting audiences, Always screens tonight (4/26) at the Tribeca Film Festival.