On the 30th anniversary of his own death, the angelic spirit of Jack Kerouac (played by Vincent Balestri) returns to earth in the abandoned body of a street bum. Jack" drops in at a poetry slam held in honor of his death day," and backed by a jazz trio, explains the meaning of bop spontaneous prose" and speaking the truth." (The jazz trio features Bisio, Whitwell and Kent) Jack begins to transform the lives of three people: Gerard Tripp (played by Frank Tabbita), a secretive writer who locks his manuscripts away; Mary (Amy Humphrey), a shy young writer; and Carol (Lisa Niemi), a former painter turned bartender.
Beat Angel was inspired by Balestri's heralded one-man jazz play, Kerouac: The Essence of Jack that began in the early '80s and ran off and on for 17 years. Kerouac's first wife, Edie Parker-Kerouac, encouraged Balestri to portray Jack on stage, coaching the actor in Jack's voice and mannerisms, and sharing old letters and home tape recordings. The play evolved as Balestri met a number of Jack's old friends. In 1993 Tabbita brought Balestri to Seattle where he performed the show in several long runs. Interested in translating the essence" of the piece to film, Tabbita teamed with filmmaker/writer Randy Allred, writer/producer Bruce Boyle, and Balestri to create Beat Angel.
The music for Beat Angel was recorded at Bellingham's Binary Studio, led by Michael Bisio and engineered by David Jennings. Bisio and Reade Whitwell were joined in the studio by Dan Blunck on saxes and flutes. Bisio, Whitwell and Kent accompanied Balestri on the theatre stage for three years as an integral part of Kerouac: The Essence of Jack. (As a writer, Kerouac was inspired by, and in his writings paid tribute to, Charlie Parker) For Beat Angel the trio also contributes original jazz music, with scene scoring by Bisio. Additional music featured in the film: composer/reed player, Ray Downey's commissioned jazz ballad, Dancing on the Rooftop," for a key scene in the film, between Mary and Jack. The ballad is performed by Ray on tenor sax, Bill McDonough on piano, Larry Holloway on bass and Mike Bejuk on drums. Music by Scott Joplin is performed on the piano and accordion by Brad Reynolds.
Beat Angel has an old movie feel" that was a deliberate design of director Allred, invoking the atmosphere of Kerouac's world and the sense of the dream-like sequences. Scenes shot at Desolation Peak (where Kerouac served as a fire lookout, and wrote about in his books, Dharma Bums and Desolation Angels), and recreations of moments in Kerouac's life, give the film a haunting yet inspiring quality. Composer/musician David Amram noted: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Larry Rivers and I all made Pull my Daisy in 1959 in part to show our kids and grandkids someday that we were for real and able to enjoy life and one another...Like those of us who played jazz during our era, and told our musical stories by using the harmonies of familiar songs to improvise new stories based on familiar material, Beat Angel is equally well-structured. The film will, like, Pull My Daisy find its own audience and enter into the tiny repertoire of films made about spirit and our Era that will last."
Beat Angel was a popular festival selection across the U.S., garnering two award nominations at The Method Fest in Los Angeles, and winning the Wine Country Film Festival's Special Prize of the Fest.
A DVD release-screening event, with a performance by Vincent Balestri, will take place on Sunday, October 22 at The Beat Museum (at 540 Broadway) in San Francisco.
DVD features: 19 minute video of Kerouac: The Essence of Jack; Writers Commentary with Balestri, Boyle, Tabbita and Allred; deleted scenes; in English with French, Spanish, Italian and English subtitles. Film running time 99 minutes, color NTSC, all Regions. Available October 21 through www.BeatAngel.com, www.FilmBaby.com Amazon.com , Kerouac.com and other selected outlets.