Neal Cassady’s friend William S. Burroughs once remarked: “There is no line between the ‘real world’ and the world of myth and symbol.” For Neal’s wife Carolyn and the family from which he hastily departed on many occasions, that quote could not ring truer. This cinematic documentary, as graceful as Carolyn herself, gives the stage to an unconventional tale of the great woman behind a great man, and the inescapable imprint left on those he loved. A fugitive of family life, Neal opted out of the provincial style for the life of a legend—joining the ranks of the Beatnik elite with close pal Jack Kerouac while Carolyn worked days and nights to provide for their children.
When found interesting enough, history becomes myth. And the present is often disregarded as the poor man’s yesterday. For posterity, Neal Cassady has his spot inevitably reserved. But Carolyn—a woman not unlike any other woman, but remarkable just the same—is much more than a footnote. Sculpting an earnest and deserving tribute to one of literature’s overlooked muses, first-time directors Maria Ramström and Malin Korkeasalo remind us that sometimes the most profound stories are found in the places we’d least expect. [Synopsis courtesy of The Tribeca Film Festival]
“Love Always, Carolyn”
Primary Cast: Carolyn Cassady, John Cassady, Cathy Cassady, Jami Cassady
Director(s): Maria Ramström, Malin Korkeasalo
Screenwriter: Maria Ramström, Malin Korkeasalo
Producer(s): Margarete Jangård
Editor: Bernhard Winkler, Stefan Sundlöf
Executive Producer: Fredrik Gertten
Composer: Jan Strand
Sound Design: Martin Hennel, Mikael Körner
Post Production Coordinator: Emma Svensson
[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the Tribeca Narrative, Documentary and Viewpoints sections to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. To prompt the discussion, indieWIRE asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]
Responses courtesy of “Love Always, Carolyn” directors Maria Ramström and Malin Korkeasalo.
Making the leap from politics into filmmaking…
Ramström: Growing up, my only real ambition was to find a way to leave the rather sheltered and segregated suburbia of Stockholm, where I was raised. I never really had this big dream of becoming a filmmaker. Politics, art and photography were my call. In my early twenties, I left for England and spent a few years assisting other photographers before I set up my own business. After ten years as a photographer, primarily shooting editorial features, I was longing for a change that would allow for me to develop further. I didn’t know exactly in which direction I was heading, but as an attempt to move forward, I began to do simple sound recordings of the people that I met through my commissions as a photographer. A few years later, I bought a DV camera and made my first short film.
Korkeasalo: My background is in still photography, which eventually led me into becoming a cinematographer. I’ve always had an interest in politics and society so I thought working with documentaries would be the ultimate way to combine the two. As a cinematographer working with documentaries, you immediately become part of the directing and storytelling, since the script often develops during filming. From that position, the step into directing was natural.
On choosing Carolyn Cassady as the subject of the documentary…
Ramström: I met Carolyn through a friend in 1999. Since I was a photographer, she asked for my help in sorting out her old photographs. After reading her book “Off the Road,” I was eager to learn more about Carolyn, her mission to debunk myths surrounding her past, the tough decisions she’s had to make in life and her incredible strength to survive. Despite the generation gap, we soon became very close friends. However, the actual idea to make a film about her came much later.
Korkeasalo: I met Carolyn through Maria during one of my visits to London eight years ago. When you meet Carolyn, you are immediately struck by the complex situation she is in. She is constantly fighting the outside image of these ghost-likes heroes who have very little in common with the actual men she knew and loved. I felt that the story about Carolyn would not only carry a strong female perspective, but also say something about how myth-making grows around real people and affects those who’s lives are subject to exploitation.
Ramström & Korkeasalo: Early in the process of filming we spent a lot of time talking about personal memories, how they are constructed and how they, to a very large extent, determine and define who we our story about Carolyn as well as show the fleeting condition of fame and the effect it has on us. The decision to have Carolyn’s son John as the main supporting character for the story was important. The generation gap and their different approach to a complicated past/family situation helped to create another layer of depth to the story.
Working to fine tune Cassady’s story…
Ramström & Korkeasalo: It’s been a greater challenge than expected to find a way to support the voice of an intelligent and stubborn 89-year-old woman when her dead husband is considered to be an iconic, larger-than-life figure. Actually, one of the biggest challenges we’ve had in developing the project was been to convince people of why this film should be made and why Carolyn’s story ought to be told at all.
We wanted to create a personal story strictly told by Carolyn and sprung out of her own personal memories and private perspective. Yet we felt that we had to provide enough background information for those who are not familiar with her husband’s place in Beat history. The balance between the two was rather tricky. During editing, the main challenge was to combine the two levels of Carolyn’s past and present life and make them fit together as one story. Also, having to leave out so many aspects of Carolyn’s long life and experiences has been a tough but necessary decision to make the story work.
Unusual ways to cut costs…
Ramström & Korkeasalo: Shooting on a low budget means having to save money and time. In order to save time for more filming, Carolyn once came up with the brilliant idea of letting us give her a home perm instead of going to the hair dresser. Well, it took us six hours and by the time we were done, all day light was gone and Carolyn needed a hair cut. Mishaps during our five years of filming have been many but, as so often with filmmaking, these situations are also the very moments when you really get to know your subject, yourself and the story you are working with.
Ramström: I’m currently working on a documentary called “Maneuvers in The Dark.” It’s a story about blue jeans, the world of branding and the code of ethics in global trading. It is set in Sweden, China and North Korea.