Directed by Chuck Workman
Review by Matt Heffernan
In 1944, three young men met: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, and William S. Burroughs. Together they defined, through their poetry and prose, what would be called "the beat generation". From that year, and into the sixties, they and their "beatnik" followers challenged society to look at itself critically during a period of complacency.
Chuck Workman has created a masterful documentary comprising of film clips of interviews, feature films, and television shows. Like the works of the beat poets, the film is a continuously flowing stream of consciousness. There is no narration, but the words of these men are throughout, artfully detailing their lives.
Intercut with the montage are dramatic interpretations of the major works of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs. Johnny Depp (still with his Astronaut's Wife haircut) reads from Kerouac's novel On the Road. John Turturro becomes Ginsburg to recite his most famous poem: Howl. Dennis Hopper was a perfect choice to relate excerpts from The Naked Lunch, Burrough's surreal book.
Workman also managed to find clips of other significant beat artists in both interviews and performance. In parallel, we see the reactions of "squares" like William F. Buckley to these counter-culture revolutionaries.
But, the beatniks were eventually part of the mainstream, as evidenced by clips of films and television from the late 1950's and early 1960's. Everyone from Bob Denver in "Dobie Gillis" to even Alfred Hitchcock could be seen making light of the movement. We also see how the beatniks expanded and evolved into the "hippies" of the late sixties. Clips of Ginsburg range from his clean-cut Columbia days to a "be-in" where he was cavorting with flower children (who were decidedly younger).
I would highly recommend seeing this to anybody who remembers these times, or anyone who would want to learn more about these people. It is a fantastic journey that ends far too quickly, just like Kerouac's life.
For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
The Source (1999)
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings
Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan