FOLLOWING THE PUBLICATION of On the Road, Jack Kerouac found himself hounded by both his newfound celebrity status and his escalating alcoholism. In 1960, he escaped New York to hide out at Lawrence Ferlinghetti's cabin in Bixby Canyon on the California coast; there, he wrote Big Sur, his darkest, most introspective work—the shadowy flipside to the picaresque On the Road.

Curt Worden's documentary One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Kerouac's Big Sur examines this period in his life, partly through interviews with contemporaries like Ferlinghetti and Carolyn Cassady (wife of Kerouac's pal Neal Cassady), but Kerouac's own words make up a bulk of the narration, recited by actor John Ventimiglia. And the film takes it one step further: A troupe of actors and musicians are brought in to read passages from the book and offer their interpretations and impressions. It sounds terrible, but the overall impression of One Fast Move is like a goofily fun and smart American lit class, supplemented by impressive photography of the gorgeous Big Sur scenery.

It helps that the audience's classmates here are people like Tom Waits, Patti Smith, Donal Logue, and S.E. Hinton, and it also helps that they're earnestly passionate about the material. In one scene, singer/songwriter Dar Williams reads from Big Sur and tears up on camera; in another, actress Amber Tamblyn flutters over a passage in which Kerouac cavalierly mentions taking a woman to bed. On the Road is still remembered fondly for the amphetamine rush of its prose, which ushered in a new era of American letters. But the booze-drenched, soul-searching Big Sur shows there's more to Kerouac than his technique. Maybe you've never read Big Sur, or maybe you've read and reread it a dozen times; after watching One Fast Move, it's going to be the next book you take off the shelf.