Lowell Blues and Jack Kerouac

A Film Review by Juliana L’Heureux

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Franco-Americans are beginning to realize the artistic treasure they have in claiming the American writer Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) who grew up in the New England mill town of Lowell, Mass.  Recently, an entire cottage industry has prospered in Lowell around the Kerouac “beat generation” mystique. 

 Although Kerouac was an outstanding American sportswriter and novelist, his roots were deeply entrenched in the French speaking Franco-American culture of Lowell.  Kerouac enjoyed a traditional Franco-American parochial school and French speaking upbringing until he joined a group of pre-sixties liberals who were labeled “the beat generation”. 

Henry Ferrini, 47, a filmmaker from Cape Ann. Mass, recently produced a poetic view of Kerouac and his French roots in a video titled “Lowell Blues: The Words of Jack Kerouac”. In the 27-minute video, Ferrini uses luscious landscapes of Lowell taken along the Merrimac River as a backdrop for Kerouac’s life as told through the writer’s voice and his prose. 

 “Kerouac is a major American writer who has effected our culture. It so happens his roots are traditional and around the corner from Maine. My biography of Kerouac is tied up in the place where he grew up.  I explore how the place effects the artist and how the artist effects his world through his work. Very little has been done to describe Kerouac’s roots in Lowell. Unlike other stories about Kerouac, ‘Lowell Blues’ focuses on the writer’s actual words”, says Ferrini. 

Film snippets show Kerouac speaking in his native French language intersected into rolling scenes of a remarkably picturesque Lowell. Opening dialogue in the video highlights a young boy who could be Kerouac at about 10 years old who proclaims, “I am about to announce that Lowell Massachusetts is now the most interesting city in the United States of America”.

Highlighted in the film are compelling religious images, triple-decker houses and scenes of Moody Street reminiscent of a traditional Franco-American upbringing. A soft jazz music score played by Lee Kimitz, Willie Alexander and Jim Doherty creates a background nostalgic mood throughout the lyrical video.  “You write what you have done, you write what you have seen”, says Kerouac in French in one clip insert.

It took Ferrini three years and $100,000 to complete “Lowell Blues”.

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Review published on November 9, 2000
Copyright 1994-2000, Portland Press Herald, Portland, Maine and Juliana L'Heureux