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Mad to Be Saved

Mad to Be Saved

The Beats, the 50's, and Film

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David Sterritt


Hardcover (Other formats: NLEB)
272 pages, 6 x 9


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About the Book

Film critic David Sterritt presents an interdisciplinary exploration of the Beat Generation, its intersections with main-stream and experimental film, and the interactions of all of these with American society and the culture of the 1950s. Sterritt balances the Beat countercultural goal of rebellion through both artistic creation and everyday behavior against the mainstream values of conformity and conservatism, growing worry over cold-war hostilities, and the "rat race" toward material success.

After an introductory overview of the Beat Generation, its history, its antecedents, and its influences, Sterritt shows the importance of "visual thinking" in the lives and works of major Beat authors, most notably Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs. He turns to Mikhail Bakhtin's dialogic theory to portray the Beat writers-who were inspired by jazz and other liberating influences-as carnivalesque rebels against what they perceived as a rigid and stifling social order.

Showing the Beats as social critics, Sterritt looks at the work of 1950s photographers Robert Frank and William Klein; the attack against Beat culture in the pictures and prose of Life magazine; and the counterattack in Frank's film Pull My Daisy, featuring key Beat personalities. He further explores expressions of rebelliousness in film noir, the melodramas of director Douglas Sirk, and other Hollywood films.

Finally, Sterritt shows the changing attitudes toward the Beat sensibility in Beat-related Hollywood movies like A Bucket of Blood and The Beat Generation; television programs like Route 66 and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis; nonstudio films like John Cassavetes's improvisational Shadows and Shirley Clarke's experimental The Connection; and radically avant-garde works by such doggedly independent screen artists as Stan Brakhage, Ron Rice, Bruce Connor, and Ken Jacobs, drawing connections between their achievements and the most subversive products of their Beat contemporaries.


David Sterritt, associate professor of film at Long Island University, is the film critic for the Christian Science Monitor. He is also on the film studies faculty at Columbia University and served for several years on the New York Film Festival selection committee. He is the author of The Films of Alfred Hitchcock, and his collected film criticism is housed by invitation in the Harvard Film Archive at Harvard University.


"David Sterritt has paid the Beats the double compliment of taking their ideas seriously and then embedding them in a whole zeitgeist full of cultural allies and enemies. The result is that the Beats take on an intellectual three-dimensionality such as one has never seen them exhibit before. This is a ground-breaking study, and a stimulating, energetically written one."—Phillip Lopate, author of Totally, Tenderly, Tragically: A Lifelong Love Affair with Movies