Sarasota’s Gus Mollassis premiered his short Kerouac Slept Here yesterday, to a sold out theater. The film was shown paired with Hollywood East, a documentary about the forgotten rise of the silent film industry in Jacksonville, Florida—an industry that at one point was unarguably more active than California. Hollywood East seemed a hit with the audience—most of whom admitted to be there to see Kerouac—as they, like me, had absolutely no idea that there was ever such an industry in Jacksonville.
Mollassis’ Kerouac Slept Here followed. The film tells the story of Kerouac’s time in Florida, both in Orlando and Tampa, where he lived with his mother and eventually passed away. Kerouac’s Orlando home has been turned into a writer’s retreat where poets and other writers can come channel the spirit of the King of the Beats. The film offers a fair portrayal of the pitfalls of Kerouac worship: the people who most admire Kerouac’s work, the ones who chase his ghost, are often a little out there, a little New Age in their understanding of what Kerouac was trying to find—the “it” he was looking for, as Mollassis correctly coins it.
Kerouac edited On The Road in Orlando. He wrote Dharma Bums in the same room. In both these books, I would argue, Kerouac is searching for a specifically American idea of freedom, of enlightenment. Where the Transcendentalists would have demanded an authentic original truth, Kerouac’s is a borrowed one. Various figures of eastern religion factor in here, as well as whatever truths the Beats claimed to discover in jazz and spontaneity. But Kerouac was a writer in the Great American Tradition: Twain, Whitman, Hemingway. He is in conversation with those writers, while he is in conversation with us, the readers.
The film focuses on what people felt while in the same building where he worked, or at the Flamingo Bar in St. Pete, where he drank. This is something many of us have done—gone and paid tribute, waited to feel something. But I worry those without the same feelings towards Kerouac might just think it silly to light a candle in front of an empty house.