Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats (Madman Ent) (1984)

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Released 16-May-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Featurette-Still images of original manuscript of On The Road
Featurette-Clips from documentaries about Ginsberg and Burroughs
Outtakes-From Kerouac's appearance on "Firing Line"
Web Links-From Kerouac's appearance on "Firing Line"
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1984
Running Time 74:04 (Case: 73)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By John Antonelli
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Jack Kerouac
Allen Ginsberg
William S. Burroughs
Jack Coulter
Seth Goldstein
Jonah Pearson
John Rousseau
Patrick Turner
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music Duke Ellington
Thelonius Monk
Charles Mingus


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Pan & Scan English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio Varies Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats was put together in 1984 by John Antonelli, who was still a student at the time. It traces the sometimes inspirational, sometimes tragic life of the most famous of the Beat writers using old film and television footage, stills and some of those corny dramatised scenes that American documentary makers are so fond of. There is some great footage of Kerouac on the Steve Allen Show reading from On The Road while Allen plays the piano, and some not-so-great footage of the man in his twilight years, drunk as a skunk on the William F. Buckley Show. The analysis of Kerouac himself is pretty lightweight and any conclusions about the man and his work are left to the comments of his friends and fellow writers Ginsberg, Burroughs and others.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Kerouac contains about an even amount of new and archival footage, some of which was sourced from film stock and some from television footage so the original aspect ratio varies widely. The documentary was originally made for a theatrical release and so as a whole the original aspect ratio would have been adjusted for widescreen viewing. Exactly which widescreen ratio was used is unknown, although the transfer is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.33:1.

    One of the interesting aspects of the production of this documentary is the effort to which the producer John Antonelli has gone to give the new dramatised footage the same grainy, worn out quality as the old interview footage of Kerouac's contemporaries such as Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. It is therefore hard to criticise the lack of sharpness in the images of the film as the effect has been done so well. It is quite difficult to see the difference in quality between a TV interview with Ginsberg done in the late 60's and the new footage shot in 1984. This is not a film to use to test the quality of your AV setup!

    Colour has been manipulated in the same way, and the recent footage looks washed out and drained of colour in the same way the ancient videotape does. The colour tones of the old film footage and TV material have been matched quite well with the newer dramatics giving the film an even tone.

     As you can imagine, a documentary that makes extensive use of old footage is going to have a lot of visual problems with scratches, glitches and artefacts of various kinds. Film artefacts are the most common, such as those between 3.39 and 3.43 or 7.20 and 7.28. There are also other kinds of visual glitches like the big hairs that appear on the top of frame at 4.41 to 4.47. Some of the archival TV footage suffers from low level noise and overmodulation, but aliasing effects have been kept to a minimum.

    There are no language options on this disc, and no subtitles. The film is only 74 minutes in length and fits easily onto a single layered DVD, so there is no layer change.

Video Ratings Summary
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Shadow Detail
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Film Artefacts
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Audio

    The audio supporting Kerouac is clear, crisp and entertaining. The music is provided by Beat legends Charles Mingus and Thelonius Monk, and also by Duke Ellington, and the recordings used are all of good quality. The period music helps to create the right atmosphere for the film while the dialogue is very easy to understand. Even William S. Burrough's mumbled ramblings have been rendered clear enough to understand!

    Audio sync is good throughout and while the English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack makes no use of the surround channels, your sub will get a bit of work from the deep sultry tones of some of the Jazz music in the soundtrack.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Main Menu Introduction

Main Menu Audio & Animation

    A simple straightforward menu that links to the film, extras and individual scene selections.

    The animation here is in the form of selected pieces of footage from the documentary run in a window behind a composite image of Kerouac and antique style typewriter keys. The audio is a Thelonius Monk piece taken from the soundtrack.

Featurette

    The first of the extras on the disc is a homage to the way in which Kerouac actually wrote On The Road, by using a teletype roll so he wouldn't have to stop to change paper. This segment includes background images of the 'scroll' as it is known, with a backing track of Kerouac reading sections from the book. There is also another segment which simply has stills of the 'scroll'. The audio here is a little scratchy as it is very old and poorly recorded.

Featurette

    The second of the extras is an excerpt from a TV show, William F. Buckley's Firing Line, which shows Kerouac in his later years, rather tired and emotional, showing the tragic degeneration of the writer as his self-confidence and enthusiasm for life dwindled.

Trailers

    There are some interesting sections from two documentaries on Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs here as trailers.

Web Links

    The web links provide URLs to popular sites covering Beat writers, Kerouac and other related topics.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The R1 and R4 versions of Kerouac: King of the Beats appear to be identical in every way.

Summary

    King of the Beats is an affectionate, sentimental docudrama which will appeal to fans of Kerouac's writing and of the Beat era itself. However, you can't help feeling that a lot more could have been said by the filmmaker.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© George Soropos (read my bio or the puppy dies)
Sunday, October 26, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using S-Video output
DisplayGrundig ST70-670. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
Audio DecoderMarantz SR7200. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationLuxman LV600 valve hybrid stereo amp for front stereo pair and Marantz SR 7200 for centre and surround channels
SpeakersAltec Lansing Model 15's front stereo, matched Krix Centrix front and rear, Krix matched rear surrounds, Sony rear subwoofer (Altec's provide sub for front)

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