Friday, March 29, 2013

On the Road and Spring Breakers

             Rebels Without a Pause

                           Review by Ken Burke            On the Road

A generally interesting attempt to compress the rambling road romance of Jack Kerouac’s famous novel into a film; good time capsule of late 1940s but little impact.

                                                                           Spring Breakers
A much more serious (and disturbing) film than the ads might indicate:  the non-stop debauchery isn’t presented for titillation but as an indicator of a society losing itself.

Given my penchant for diversion in these reviews (in general with comments such as this one, but definitely with the frequent musical interludes), there’s no way that I can even clear my own head to write about On the Road without getting the obvious Willie Nelson song out of the way first, so here you go with "On the Road Again" at (recorded live at the Grand Ole Opry [song from the soundtrack of the 1980 movie Honeysuckle Rose (Jerry Schatzberg)]).  Now, with Willie’s music providing a background reference, we move on to a film attempting to make a coherent cinematic translation of Jack Kerouac’s famous “Beatnik” 1957 novel (although written in 1951 but not an easy sell for publication in those days), On the Road—not that the original is too stream-of-consciousness-rambling-prose to follow (if you want some of that, go back a couple of decades from the '50s and try some of the well-known works of Virginia Woolf or William Faulkner—or, for that matter, any of my reviews which draw from all of these authors in style [no claim to such regarding substance, though]) but it’s just one encounter after another and the ensuing interactions of various non-conformist friends, with constant relocations across the entire U.S. from Manhattan through Denver to San Francisco with side trips to the South, the Southwest, and Mexico—a difficult proposition to get into a standard-length film, even when the subject matter is familiar through several generations of high-school-and-college-required-readings assignments, along with the connected casual conversations about being able to live such a freewheeling lifestyle, and even though the director is the well-respected Walter Salles (possibly best known for films made in his native South America, Central Station [1998] and The Motorcycle Diaries [2004]).

I read the book years ago, skimmed it again prior to writing this review, attempted to emulate the original writing conditions by taping several computer screens together so that my words could just flow along as far as needed (for some reason that didn’t work; I still never have figured out the essence of this cyber-technology), and come to the conclusion that both Kerouac’s “novel” (which is essentially an account of his life with Neal Cassady, their various lovers and wives [not necessarily in any order, given the easy hedonism of their lifestyles—not that there’s anything wrong with that, at least until you’re married to a marvelous woman such as I am (Hi, Sweetheart!) and would never consider such “depravity”]),with its continuing conveyor-belt of friends and acquaintances (some of whom are other quite well-known authors of the era when their fictional names are decoded, as with Carlo Marx as Allen Ginsberg [played in this film by Tom Sturridge] and Old Bull Lee as William S. Burroughs [played here by Viggo Mortensen]), and Salles’ cinematic adaptation are marvelous time-capsule depictions of the early years of my life (as this novel, its film incarnation, and I all begin in the winter of 1947) but offer little in terms of standard dramatic investment for an audience, unless you have a journalist/photographer/sociologist sensibility for character study in which case you’ll likely get much further towards satisfaction than I did with On the Road, for me a road less taken although I do admire the respect shown to the source material and its attempt to illuminate a prosperous-surface-but-troubled-soul period of American history, one that I found more resonance with in Thomas Paul Anderson’s The Master (2012; review in this blog’s Sept. 27, 2012 posting—I realize that I’ve started replacing my constant comments of praise about Orson Welles’ 1941 Citizen Kane with similar ones about The Master, but it continues to haunt me in ways that few films have since Kane, maybe because, like On the Road, it deals with the period of my formative years, evoking all that “child is father of the man” stuff from William Wordsworth’s 1802 poem, “The Rainbow” [and extended into an ethereal song of the same title by Beach Boy Brian Wilson and writing partner Van Dyke Parks for the long-delayed Smile album, begun in 1966 and finally finished and released in 2004; take a listen if you like at]).

While the cast in the original book is larger than you’d expect to find in anything short of Tolstoy’s War and Peace (first published in 1869), the main ones in this cinematic version of On the Road—which follows the 1957 published novel’s tactic of avoiding libel lawsuits by changing the names of the actual people being described, although they’re presented as themselves in the original scroll version of the book written in 1951—are Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) as Kerouac’s alter-ego, Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) as Cassady, and Dean’s teenage first wife Marylou (Kristen Stewart) as LuAnne Henderson (and, to get another of my silly asides out of the way, when I first saw Riley [in the back seat in this photo] I was taken by what I see as his resemblance to Bill Hader of the long-running Saturday Night Live—talk about a never-ending road trip; Lorne Michaels is probably going to keep producing that show until he’s 150—so especially with the opening situations being in Manhattan it was hard to concentrate on Sal when I kept flashing [so to speak] on Hader’s completely-wrong-for-the-intended-audience-tourist-guide Stefon [“New York’s hottest club … Rectum … it’s got everything!”; OK, I made that up, but here’s a collage of real Stefon bits at  In addition to my distraction with Riley, others may have some distractions of their own about Moriarty/Cassady as well because there have been many other attempts to get him to screen, either as himself or as a character even more fictionalized than Moriarty.  The one I remember best came out in 1980, Heart Beat (John Bynum), in which Cassady was played by Nick Nolte (with John Heard as Kerouac) and Sissy Spacek was his second wife, Carolyn—in the book, known as Camille (portrayed by Kirsten Dunst as such in the current film)—but unlike that attempt to recall the actual biographies of 3 of the central figures that inspired what Kerouac semi-fictionalized (at best) into his most famous work, Salles’ cinematic On the Road goes back to the source material—disguised names and all—which it further truncates and slightly rearranges in an attempt to get to the essence of something that was virtually nothing but essence in its original form.  Far be it for me to pass critical judgment on the lasting worth of what many have called one of the great novels of the 20th century, but for my tastes—while I admire the stance that Kerouac and company took against the stultifying moral standards of the immediate post-WW II era (a seeming interest of today—but a very mild one—given the just-barely-still-playing Japan-reconstruction story, Emperor [Peter Webber; review in this blog at our March 16, 2013 posting], with about $2.5 million in box-office receipts after 3 weeks in release and a mere $257,000 [yes, that’s correct; I didn’t forget another zero here] for On the Road after 5 weeks in the theatres), I just don’t find much to get attached to, either in the novel or this relatively faithful adaptation of it on screen.

The acting is uniformly solid, the sense of the time period depicted is quite accurate (hey, just because I was a baby then doesn’t mean I don’t have memories, repressed or not), and the sense of yearning for something more than what America was building toward in the Great Façade of normalcy and stability in the 1950s Eisenhower years comes through in these desperately anti-Establishment prototypes of the later Beatniks and Hippies, but it feels more like a docudrama than a real drama, more a re-enactment of a long-ago era than a sense of that era being embodied in a story that transcends its diary-based roots (the novel was the result of years of note-taking by Kerouac, which comes through in both book and film form in each of these variations of On the Road).  I didn’t really catch the model of car that this troupe used to travel the country numerous times (unless a car has those giant GM tailfins from 1959 I don’t recognize much anyway), but they should have been in a Rambler because that’s what this film does best: rambles around in fits and starts (unlike Dinah Shore who was “see[ing] the U.S.A. in [her] Chevrolet” at about the same time with her TV variety show but in a much more focused, upbeat manner).  The only beats here are downbeats, as the Beat Generation was beginning to establish their counter-rhythm to the dominant chords of the time, which may have been charmingly melodic on the surface but were much more somber in the heartbeats of the social guardians of the emerging American empire.

Based on Sal’s voiceovers we keep hearing about Dean and how important he was to Sal’s determination to liberate himself from the material expectations of his suddenly-affluent society (I still remember how my Dad would say that in inflation-adjusted-dollar-for-dollar terms he made more money in 1946 after returning from the war and to his job as an NCR cash-register repairman than he ever did until he retired in 1975) and find his creative direction as a novelist.  Yet, a good bit of what On the Road conveys in this film is Sal (as Kerouac) on his own or with his extended circle, which at one point included his own lover, Terry (Alice Braga, playing a fictionalized version of Bea Franco), a young woman he meets on a bus, then spends some time with in the fields of California picking cotton until the call of the road brings him back East again to connect up with his own wandering band of gypsies (not unlike those in Willie Nelson’s band many years down the road from Sal’s story).  Along the way we’ll meet Ed Dunkle (based on Al Hinkle, played here by Danny Morgan), then the two other most famous faces in the cast, Ed’s wife, Galatea (based on Helen Hinkle, played by Elisabeth Moss, who gets to back step from the traumas of TV’s 1960s Mad Men to the even more repressive 1950s), whom Ed married so that he and Dean could get gas money from her, then they dump her in Tucson, after which she makes her way to Algiers, LA (a district/Ward of New Orleans) where she’s become a noisy burden to Old Bull Lee and his wacky wife, Jane (Amy Adams, playing a character based on Joan Vollmer), leading to Sal, Dean, Ed, and the constantly reappearing Marylou—ex-wife in name only—travelling down South to deposit Ed before the road beckons once more.  If from all this description and identification you get the sense that this film of On the Road is just an endless collection of substance abuse (liquor, beer, pot, Benzedrine, and whatever else happened to be available), nudity (we first meet Dean completely in the buff and Marylou topless; later they and Sal are driving through the Southwest and decide to match their topless convertible with their top-and-bottomless bodies), sex (hookups, highway blowjobs, 3-ways [or attempts at such, but Sal finally has to tell Dean to scram so he can keep it personal with the ever-present Marylou], and unexpected solicitations [toward Dean from travelling salesman Steve Buscemi, which he accepts possibly because of the money offered but also because Dean seems comfortably bisexual in his persona as a fearless force of nature, at least where Carlo was concerned, even though Hello Marylou (can’t resist, check out Ricky Nelson at, as I’m being just as erratic as this film is) doesn’t care for the competition]), occasional car theft, and good music along the way (hot jazz, as practiced by a passionate Terrence Howard), you might have good evidence for that decision, but our protagonists never intended for their yearnings to be understood even by them as merely superficial social experiments, no matter how it may seem in hindsight.

Despite Sal’s recurring focus on Dean, ultimately the command of the era belongs to Sal after he’s able to tame all of his experiences into the novel that is illustrated in this film, which we see him almost at the end pounding out through his manual typewriter onto the famous 120-foot scroll of taped-together sheets of tracing paper (so that he could just let his thoughts flow, without the need of frequently putting in new paper, the "troubling inconvenience" we see in this photo [irony of ironies, I've learned that the original scroll is now owned by Jim Irsay, also owner of football’s Indianapolis Colts and a former student of mine in the early 1980s at Southern Methodist University in Dallas; now that’s a non-sequitir that even I can’t find a follow-up comment for]).  We don’t get citations from the novel much in the film’s soundtrack via Sal's voiceovers—because it doesn’t really come together as a novel/memoir until after it’s all happened—but if you read the original you’ll find that even though it’s constantly circling back to the importance of Dean, the important voice still belongs to Sal/Jack (why he changed his actual French-Canadian heritage to seemingly Italian in the book isn’t clear given that he didn’t hide anyone else’s identity very much nor does it make sense why the carryover of the implied Italian name and heritage into the film is coupled with a character and his aunt who clearly are of French-Canadian extraction, but Salles seems to be equally borrowing from the published edition of the novel and the earlier scroll version where it’s all more autobiographical than supposed fiction so you’ve got to be hip to the sources here to fully follow what’s happening in this rendition of On the Road).  Maybe the only way to really get into what the film is trying to convey, about the late 1940s era and the on-again/off-again bromance between Sal and Dean is to revisit the last paragraph of the novel:

“So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear?  the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.”

At least some of this is contained in the film’s final words (my memory’s not good enough to recall exactly how much), followed by the credits juxtaposed to long takes of Dean walking along railroad tracks, his back to the camera and us as he continues on a road to inner awareness and comprehension of the society that he, Sal, and all of the others would continue to navigate in their less-than-acquiescent-manner (even though various biographies, fictionalized or otherwise, say that Kerouac and Cassady did have periodic contact in the 1950s unlike the final separation of Sal and Dean at the end of both print and film versions of On the Road, just prior to the passage quoted above, probably encouraged by Dean leaving Sal in Mexico, horribly sick with dysentery, because Dean—as always—had other projects that needed pursuing).  For such “dharma bums” (to borrow the title of a later Kerouac novel [1958]) the road probably never ends, so I’ll start closing this section with a tune less optimistic than Willie’s but more attuned to the reality of the everlasting search, Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty” at (from the 1977 album of the same name, with this performance from his 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction), which shows how “the road” continues to be appealing yet unyielding even beyond the American years of overt social rebellion.  However, I’ll also offer a different look at this road, even beyond what Bob Dylan would later explore in his mid-‘60s version of Kerouac’s vision, beyond how they both saw mainstream U.S.A. as “Desolation Row” (best Dylan version I could get is at—a live MTV Unplugged recording from Nov. 17, 1994, with the original on his 1965 Highway 61 Revisited album—but at least you can understand what he’s singing in this video, unlike with more recent live performances), with my deeper retrospective look informed by dropping back a few years before Kerouac to the first chapter, last paragraph of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and his description of yet another American society lost in its own self-created wilderness:

The Grapes of Wrath, John Ford (1940)
“The people came out of their houses and smelled the hot stinging air and covered their noses from it.  And the children came out of their houses, but they did not run or shout as they would have done after a rain.  Men stood by their fences and looked at the ruined corn, drying fast now, only a little green showing through the film of dust.  The men were silent and they did not move often.  And the women came out of the houses to stand beside their men—to feel whether this time the men would break.  The women studied the men’s faces secretly, for the corn could go, as long as something else remained.  The children stood near by, drawing figures in the dust with their bare toes, and the children sent exploring senses out to see whether men and women would break.  The children peeked at the faces of the men and women, and then drew careful lines in the dust with their toes.  Horses came to the watering troughs and nuzzled the water to clear the surface dust.  After a while the faces of the watching men lost their bemused perplexity and became hard and angry and resistant.  Then the women knew that they were safe and that there was no break.  Then they asked, What’ll we do?  And the men replied, I don’t know.  But it was all right.  The women knew it was all right, and the watching children knew it was all right.  Women and children knew deep in themselves that no misfortune was too great to bear if their men were whole.  The women went into the houses to do their work, and the children began to play, but cautiously at first.  As the day went forward the sun became less red.  It flared down on the dust-blanketed land.  The men sat in the doorways of the their houses; their hands were busy with sticks and little rocks.  The men sat still—thinking—figuring.”

You can certainly find these testimonies from Steinbeck and Kerouac about a society losing its understanding of itself as coequal statements from different but related times (Depression era, post-WW II) just as you can attach them both to Dylan’s Kennedy-era optimism-battling-with-paranoia follow-up and debate which is the more worthy—if any of them are to be judged lesser than the others—but when I put it all together I just get more substance from the sad but insistent journey of the Joads than I do from the “I don’t even know what I’m hoping to find” drifters in On the Road; Kerouac’s long, circular trail finally found some stability for Sal at the end of the novel, just as the book itself would give Kerouac the possibility of fame and security, although it would ultimately create a pressure beyond anything Sal ever encountered, leading to Kerouac’s alcohol-fueled death at age 47 in 1969.  On the Road, both older novel and contemporary film. leaves us with Dean as the one in the lurch (and Neal Cassady did die in sad circumstances in 1968 at age 41 of general bodily failure), but Sal finishes on a false note of resolution, which would not be verified in Kerouac’s true biography.  If anything, On the Road is a sad eulogy to a time of attempted rebellion by self-made social exiles, who like Moses eons ago and Freddy Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) in another contemporary look at the bygone post-WW II era in The Master, all come to the border of a new existence but are denied the opportunity to fully partake of it themselves.  As noted above, I’d ultimately go with the book of The Grapes of Wrath and the films of Citizen Kane (made at the time of America wanting to see itself on the verge of rejuvenation but not yet ready for that breakthrough) and The Master over either version of On the Road, but I can’t deny the impact of Kerouac’s novel nor the reasonable manner in which Salles captures it in his film, so I’m willing to admit that others may find more substance than I did in this desperate need for self-understanding sought by Sal, Dean, and their tribe of willing misfits.  At least they made an effort toward something that mattered to them, even if they weren’t fully sure what it was.

Based on a superficial awareness of the ads for Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers (one of the harder R’s you’re likely to see—or maybe not, depending on your affinity for its contents), you might not realize how appropriate Jackson Browne’s song, referenced a couple of paragraphs above, is for this film as well because Spring Breakers is about a lot more than bare boobs and beer bongs (including various combinations thereof, along with the usual collection of other alcohol-drug-and-sex-related imagery that the concept of “Spring Break” is likely to conjure up, including in this film a pot pipe shaped like a baby), which provide the surface attraction for a walk—that eventually accelerates into a full gallop—on the wild side of not only St. Petersburg, FL, but by extension our whole confused, materially-obsessed society, a place that Kerouac’s Beat Generation was trying to escape, even while being just as drunk and stoned in the process as the girls we’re about to explore, rather than embracing and attempting to command their unwelcoming world out of sheer boredom and nihilism as we get in Spring Breakers. In case all of these leading faces aren’t immediately recognizable to you (which means you may be as increasingly out of touch with youth culture as I am), from left to right in this photo we have Faith (Selena Gomez), Brit (Ashley Benson), Cotty (Rachel Korine, Harmony’s wife), and Candy (Vanessa Hudgens); I assume you can figure out that the other one is James Franco (although his appearance is altered enough here that you might not immediately recognize him from his other current offering, Oz the Great and Powerful [Sam Raimi]) as aspiring St. Petersburg drug-king Alien (he admits that he started out as just “Al,” but he’s now too removed from normal human consciousness [“I just want to be bad!] to be considered one of us).  What you might consider about this film possibly depends on whether you take it (A) at face value as an inspiration to indulge in anything you desire for your own pleasure, no matter the harm you do to random strangers (along with a snide implication that any sort of moral guidance that you might possess—no matter how weak—will only prevent you from experiencing your true wastrel nature), or (B) as an extreme warning that our social fabric is being ripped apart by directionless anarchists such as those depicted in this film, with hope that exposing the temptations that beckon the growing underemployed, undermotived demographic of our culture will awaken all of us to the “whatever” rot that implies our descent into “Fall of the Roman Empire” territory.  Either of those options may be more melodramatic than the whatever that director Korine intends, but given the outrageousness that this film builds upon I’d say no interpretation is necessarily too extreme.

Plot-wise, Spring Breakers begins in a non-descript college (maybe in the South) where our 4 protagonists are friends longing for a break from their institutional boredom but too broke to head for a wild mid-semester week in Florida.  In the first indication that these gals have way too much free time on their hands (and minds) they decide to rob a local diner, disguising themselves with ski masks and confusing their victims with water guns (as we see later in flashback, the actual robbers, Candy and Brit, do a lot of angry trash talking in the process of moving through this horizontally-laid-out chicken shack “quicker than the wind from a duck’s ass” [to quote the ever-eloquent Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) from Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)] while Cotty serves as the getaway driver, establishing the two robbers early on as the more naturally vicious and unmoored of the quartet).  Once in St. Petersburg with seemingly every other undergraduate in the country, they party day and night until they’re arrested along with some other revelers for overzealous motel room rearrangement and other offenses, which leads to their more scandalous adventures noted below.  These 4 characters came alive as a plausible blend of mindless over-indulgers, cut with a sense of frustrated entitlement that will justify their later excesses while acknowledging that a couple of them aren’t as wicked as they’d like to hope they are.  For me, it was a pleasure to see effective acting in this fast-moving situation (made all the more impactful by H. Korine’s direction that rapidly blends well-shot, seeming documentary footage of mammoth orgies with post-production processed imagery that blurs the “reality” of those shots, just as this hedonistic escape from obligation blends the reality of college expectations with the fantasy of complete irresponsibility, all presented in a constantly-intercut edited collage of past-and-present events that capture well the sensual whirl of these young women's escape week), especially from young talent that I don’t know that much about except from gossip columns.  Although R. Korine hasn’t dented my awareness previously, Benson’s been in a lot of TV series that I just haven’t allotted myself much time to watch yet (although the couple of episodes of How I Met Your Mother show fine potential if it’s still on by the time I could work it into my schedule and Pretty Little Liars has certainly gotten a lot of positive press), Hudgens has been in the Disney High School Musical movies for TV (Kenny Ortega, 2006, 2007) and theatrical release (Ortega, 2008), thereby gaining some street cred by going wild in Spring Breakers, and Gomez has possibly won the prize for transcending her previous media image, built on lots of Disney Channel work and being a temporary Justin Bieber girlfriend (with his various escapades recently, he’s getting to be a bit less squeaky-clean himself).

But beyond any of these now-not-so-fair ladies, certainly the most talked-about aspect of Spring Breakers is Franco’s Alien character, given his radically-changed appearance (silver teeth caps, cornrow hair) and a performance that inspires comparisons to one you’d expect from Matthew McConaughey on high-grade cocaine.  This isn’t what you’d associate with Franco based on his past work (although there might be some overlap with his portrayal of Allen Ginsberg in Howl [Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman, 2010], but I can only speculate because I haven’t seen it [I wish I had, for comparison with the Carlo Marx character in On the Road, but if anyone reading this can offer comments in that direction they’d be appreciated—as are any comments about anything in these reviews]).  Alien is clearly intended as a despicable, self-centered, deluded guy, a sort of wannabe Tony Montana (as played by the infinitely crazier, more dangerous, and more effective Al Pacino, channeling a more plausible ethnic badass attitude than Alien could ever hope to manage, even in his wildest dreams, in Brian De Palma’s 1983 Scarface), hoping to gain more command of the drug business in a less-trendy area of Florida than was commanded by Montana.  His motive in bailing out our wayward college girls is simply to recruit them into his understaffed army, with the hope that they’ll also provide added post-robbery benefits that he’s not looking for from your average male thug (Alien may pride himself on how cool he is by waving around his impressive arsenal and using cash to enhance his bed sheets but he can’t match Dean Moriarty in bisexual allure).  His assumed appeal falls flat with Faith almost immediately, as she realizes that her fantasies of irreverent actions that would shock her church circle back home are no match for Alien’s intentions of pushing whatever limits he can possibly find (reminiscent of Marlon Brando as Johnny Strabler in Laslo Benedek’s 1953 The Wild One—with even more anti-social characters than the ones in One the Road—as noted in this famous scene at  As for Cotty, she’s once again willing to spread some mayhem until she’s wounded with gunfire from Alien’s rival, deflating her badass aspirations and sending her back to campus on the next bus as well.  That leaves Brit and Candy, the true punks of the crowd anyway, as natural companions for Alien in his small-time crime sprees and swimming-pool-threesome lust, but when they all go to confront drug-dealer rival Big Arch (Gucci Mane), Alien is the first casualty, although the ski-mask-clad ladies manage to slaughter everyone at the complex, proving that what they missed out on in the lecture hall they must have made up for at the firing range.

       All in all, though, Spring Breakers isn’t so much about dysfunctional deviants in our culture as it is about how the pressures and unholy allures within our society are the true deviations that drive anyone mad who can’t accept as normal what modern misguided material-mongers have made into legitimate lifestyles of the rich and famously unconcerned.  It’s all very similar to a play I've seen recently, George F. Walker’s Dead Metaphor, in which a very talented young military sniper returns from duty in the Middle East to stateside to find his home country is hounded into extremism by politicians who take any position that will pay off at the ballot box and difficulties are set up to be solved by atrocious decisions, such as hiring this crack shot to eliminate troublesome problems both within his family and the community at large (it’s just finished its premiere run in San Francisco—see—and hopefully will be available at other locations in the near future).

By the time we get to the end of Spring Breakers we fully understand that, like good satire or social commentary, we have to understand that director Korine has challenged us to contemplate what we’re seeing here and how to interpret it.  I’d say it’s a sad commentary on a society becoming almost completely rudderless (save for the fearful rejection by Faith of what awaits within the wild side of life—with her all-too-obvious name relative to her character's decision) and, at best, ambivalent about this loss of direction.  In trying to sum it up with a song (as I keep insisting on doing, even when unnecessary for proper analytical purposes), I’m sure that there’s something more contemporary that I probably don’t even know about that speaks to the malaise depicted in this film but for me I keep coming back to Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall” (from his 1963 The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album, with a version of the song available at, from the famous 1971 Concert from Bangladesh, organized by George Harrison), although the more optimistic among you might want to then follow up with John Fogerty’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain” (from his 1970 album, Cosmo’s Factory, with a later live version at, but I don’t know that there’s an answer to that question.  What I’m reminded of is the father, Arnold Joseph (Gary Farmer), asking his young son, Victor (Cody Lightning), who his favorite Indian is in Chris Eyre’s 1998 Smoke Signals.  Despite his Dad’s hope for self-justification (after a lifetime of drunkenness, which led to him being the cause of a tragic accident), all Victor will say is “Nobody.”  I’m afraid that “Nobody” is the increasingly-plausible answer to Fogerty’s question of who’ll stop Dylan’s forecast of devastating, socially-destroying “rain.”  Spring Breakers leaves us with a pile of dead bodies, the hope of innocent hedonistic escape from sameness dashed on the rocks of cruel reality, some previously tight friendships either shattered or twisted in new, undesirable directions, and no real clue as to whether Brit and Candy are just headed back to the rest of their mundane semester at college after proving themselves capable of annihilating the drug lords of St. Petersburg or whether they’re taking a joy ride in their new territory (in Big Arch’s stolen Lamborghini, although he doesn’t have much use for it after they plugged him) to further establish themselves as the illicit queen bees of Gulf Coast Florida.  Korine doesn’t provide answers or explanations, he just shows us the grim reality of the dysfunctional aspects that lurk in every aspect of our society (Alien and his ilk are detestable but alluring with all of their flashy possessions and easy command of the monetary power needed to function in the upper rungs of a material world; however, the throngs of drunken, stoned, sex-crazed partygoers that Faith, Cotty, Candy, and Brit originally wanted to be part of are not exactly role models of emerging-adult-decorum either, implying that corruption is easily available everywhere you turn and any of us are just an opportunity away from unleashing our antisocial demons, with no regrets considered).

Spring Breakers is effectively disturbing in what it presents about the fragile social contract that even the seemingly secure are ready to void, leaving us to wonder where we’re headed as a culture not just disenchanted with traditional expectations as we saw from years ago in On the Road but also numb to the consequences of anything short of nihilistic hedonism in the name of self-appointed ownership of the propriety of pleasure.  Sal, Dean, Marylou, and their band of pleasure-seekers simply wanted something less expected and staid to give some vitality to their lives (still embodied in the simple ideal of the Manifest-Destiny-inspired liberating freedom of the open road and open range of the West).  Brit and Candy are even more capable than their mentor, Alien, to not just escape social confines but to force themselves into a(n anti-)social elite where their way is the highway, the fast track to their sense of embodied entitlement.  We can only hope that this is a warning and not a prediction.  Spring Breakers leaves us with a sense of hopelessness that the desired-for innocence of these young protagonists is simply a childhood fantasy to be replaced by fear (Faith), ineptitude (Cotty), or dreadful self-interest (Candy and Brit, who rationalize what they’re doing with the encouragement to “Just pretend it’s a f***in’ video game!”).  A close look at how our national government is functioning at this point may be all the proof we need to know that this warning is not just the stuff of fiction. 

If you’d like to go further On the Road here are some suggested links: (supposedly a site where you can watch the entire film for free; I’ll leave that to your curiosity)

If you’d like to push the limits more with Spring Breakers here are some suggested links: (a bit longer than usual trailer with lots of use of the f word if that’s a concern for you; also shows you plenty of the film if you don’t really want to watch the whole thing at a theatre) (46 min. press conference on the film recorded at the 2012 Toronto Film Festival with director Harmony Korine and actors Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, James Franco, Rachel Korine, and Vanessa Hudgens)

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FINALLY:  If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.

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