As with many other larger-than-life figures, there are so many legends and myths about the famed writer Jack Kerouac it is often difficult to distinguish fantasy from reality. But the two-volume DVD What Happened To Kerouac? (Shout! Factory) offers the most accurate portrait of him currently available. It begins with the original mid-’80s documentary that compiled television appearances Kerouac made alongside Steve Allen and William F. Buckley. He is passionate and incisive during these interviews. Kerouac covered multiple topics while revealing his distaste for the oppressiveness and limitations he felt society was putting on writers specifically and artists in general. The documentary blended footage from those appearances with reflections on Kerouac provided by numerous friends and associates, among them Allen Ginsburg, Gregory Corso, Neal and Carolyn Cassady, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Michael McClure.
What emerges was and is fascinating, insightful and troubling. While his comments illuminate his genius, they also show how much at odds Kerouac often was with the world, and even with himself. Frustrated and sometimes angry at the treatment he saw his friends receive, along with the majority of American society being unresponsive to his work, Jack Kerouac eventually let disillusionment destroy him. His tragic descent into alcoholism led to his death in 1969 at 47, a premature end to a brilliant career.
But during his lifetime, his writings on culture and politics were visionary and insightful. Unfortunately, they’ve also often been misunderstood or twisted. The focus on his “Beat Generation” work gets glorified to excess. Meanwhile his insights on jazz and poetry, the power of language, or his predictions regarding the coming of the ’60s free spirits, haven’t been nearly as acknowledged. The documentary also showed how Kerouac’s working class background influenced everything he did. Contrary to what detractors claimed, he wasn’t oblivious to the shortcomings of jazz musicians, poets, other writers or hippies. But he embraced their lack of hypocrisy, plus their artistic and intellectual brilliance, which mirrored his own.
The set’s real bonus comes in a new two-hour documentary The Beat Goes On. A 2012 production, it contains rare and in some instances never before available footage. There are also updated interviews with Abbie Hoffman, Timothy Leary, Paul Krassner, William S. Burroughs and Ginsberg among others. There’s more extensive examination of Kerouac’s writing style and approach, a closer look at the impact of his background, and an objective, unsentimental examination of all the factors that caused his latter decline.
Kerouac’s friends speak with warmth and affection, yet aren’t afraid to detail flaws and faults. They also obliterate myths about him, particularly when talking about his classic work On The Road, the Beat generation, ’50s and ’60s West Coast jazz, and other subjects. The result is a candid, fascinating look at a great writer and his real life, rather than the epic one commonly associated with him.
Extra sets: Kathy Griffin – The Kathy Griffin Collection, Red, White + Raw (Shout! Factory)
Kathy Griffin’s won two Emmy Awards while simultaneously amusing and irritating various segments of the television audience. This collection may be too much (over five hours) for those who find her bawdy routines and coarse (to put it mildly) language offensive. But her fans will love the willingness to take on any and all sacred cows, and the ability to make herself the butt of the joke as much as anyone else. Some of these routines (“Does The Bible Belt,” “50 & Not Pregnant”) aren’t quite so spicy, while others (“Whores on Crutches,” “Pants Off,” “Tired Hooker,” “Balls of Steel”) are risque by even pay-cable standards. Griffin wrote all the material, and there’s additional bonus footage that’s never been aired. A must-have for her fans. Others approach at your own risk.
The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, Season One (Timeless Media Group/CBS DVD)
Dan Haggerty portrayed the mountain man James “Grizzly” Adams in a late ’70s TV series that was a continuation of the 1972 Charles Sellier Jr. novel and a prior 1974 film. It was loosely based on the adventures of a real mountain man named James “Grizzly” Adams. But in the film and TV show, Adams was a fugitive wrongly accused of a crime. He escaped into the mountains and later befriended a grizzly cub. The cub becomes a huge bear and one of three companions. The other two were an old trader named “Mad Jack” (Denver Pyle) and Native American Nakoma (Don Shanks). Adams preferred being in nature to human society, and swore never to harm any animal unless absolutely necessary. He also sought to protect the environment and avoid bounty hunters trying to capture.
The four-disc set contains all the episodes from the show’s opening season, all uncut and digitally remastered. It’s the type of family-friendly show that’s long since disappeared from the networks, and isn’t that welcome on cable other than on a handful of channels still airing shows for a wide demographic rather than a narrow target audience. It’s hardly great TV, but is very pleasant, if also quite predictable. But the messages of concern and love for nature and animals are still topical, and the visual impact (much of it was filmed in the mountains near Ruidoso, New Mexico) remains quite stunning. Incidentally, the 1982 film The Capture of Grizzly Adams provided a fine ending to the saga. The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, Season One will be released Nov. 6.