by Jerry Cimino
I first met Vince Balestri almost 20 years ago, when John Allen Cassady and I drove to Burbank, California, for the premiere of Beat Angel. We met many of the other people involved in that film—director Randy Allred, Bruce Boyle, Frank Tabbita and others. It was the maiden voyage of the original Beat Museum on Wheels, a test run for our upcoming 2004 cross-country tour.
John and I were both blown away by Vince’s performance in the film. I was sitting next to John when we saw Vince on screen for the first time, as Jack Kerouac doing an imitation of Neal Cassady. John was animated and giggling during the sequence. “He’s got him! He really nailed Neal!” John said.
When Brian Hassett told me he would be doing a presentation based on all the actors who have ever played Jack on screen, I couldn’t wait to hear the verdict. As good as some actors have been, I knew there was no performance ever captured on film that could measure up to Vince Balestri. After all, he spent decades doing a one-man stage show portraying Kerouac long before Beat Angel was made. What I learned from the Beat Angel team over the weekend we spent with them in Burbank only makes Beat Angel all the more incredible: First, it was filmed on a $20,000 budget. Most movie productions spill more than that in coffee every week!
It was explained to me when it came time to shoot the legendary poetry slam scene, Vince was told “We have exactly 10 minutes of film stock left, and no money to buy more. Vince, you gotta nail this in one take.”
Of course, Vince delivered on that accessory the same way he delivered on every other aspect of the film.
Brian mentioned during his presentation how the Beat Museum has been selling DVD copies of Beat Angel ever since it was released, and we have a sign posted: “If you’re a Kerouac fan, you’re gonna love this film! If you don’t, we will give you a full money back refund no questions asked. Just ship it back to us, and we will even cover the shipping.” To this day, not one single copy has ever been returned.