Jean Doumanian Productions
Neal Cassady is a biographical film focusing on Jack Kerouac's Dean Moriarty muse for On the Road, Neal Cassady. This film minimizes his friendship with Kerouac, confining their interactions to the first 20 minutes of the film. Most of the movie actually focuses on the second phase of Cassady's career as a behind-the-scenes countercultural protagonist, his relationship to Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters.
Cassady is a pivotal figure in American counterculture, first inspiring the beats to write and later befriending one of the best known hippie collectives of the era. His relevance is rooted in his friendships with the era-defining writers of these periods, and some of the scenes in this film use these writers interactions with Cassady as metaphoric markers of the passage of one era to another. In particular tensions are represented between Kesey and Kerouac. Kerouac is shown to reject the hippies who, in return, rejected him as well. Interestingly, Alan Ginsberg, who not only knew Cassady but also enjoyed relevance from one era to another, and was friends with Kesey himself, was not mentioned until 50 minutes into the film. The film is thus two travel narratives, first On the Road and Pranksters On the Bus.
Much of the movie is a simulation of 1960s film footage of the Prankster's cross-country bus trip or of a Ken Kesey party where Kesey pressures a drunken 1960s Keuroac to take acid. This shift in perspective and in media is a technique for conveying a sense of authenticity, and here it also refers to the hours and hours of film the pranksters shot of their voyage, film that was never edited into a proper film but nevertheless has found its way into countless documentaries about the 1960s.
The jazz music soundtrack largely signifies the beat era even if the film's emphasis is on the 1960s and psychedelia.