Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Source (1999)

Sweet documentary on the Beat generation and its lasting legacy. The focus is on the three most popular and seminal works of the movement, and their respective authors: On The Road by Jack Kerouac, "Howl" by Allen Ginsberg, and Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs. Interviews with Ginsberg and Burroughs, along with archive footage of Kerouac, are prominent, but not the focus; the fast-paced cutting is meant to evoke the style of the period, more than any ruminations on the text. Director Chuck Workman keeps the images and ideas flowing in a Beat-like manner, making the energy, more than the information, the top priority. This works in making the documentary a fun, exciting experience, providing much more life and movement than most docs can muster. However, it trivializes the importance of most of the texts, with only the brief "Howl" being presented in its entirety, and analyzed accordingly. The authors, and their sensationalist lifestyles, take central interest here, as their homosexual exploits, their adventures abroad, and their post-Beat endeavors are extensively, and unnecessarily, detailed. There are readings of the three works by Johnny Depp, John Turturro, and Dennis Hopper, and of the three, only Depp seems tremendously bored and out of place; the connection that the latter two have with the material is tangible and evident in their spirited reading. The sequence on Neal Cassady, the inspiration or "muse" for much of the Beats, including a surprising amount of archive footage, is refreshing and enlightening; my girlfriend claims that the brief footage of the real Cassady is far more interesting than Tom Jane's entire interpretation of him in The Last Time I Committed Suicide. However, at the end, aside from several images or factoids I was not privy to, I did not feel like I had learned anything that the texts themselves did not teach me. That being said, this is a great way to introduce modern audiences to the Beat movement, and definitely captures the idealism and spirit of the movement without compromising too much of its inherent integrity and struggle.

Recommended for fans of Beat poetry and high-energy documentaries. I am not gaga about many docs, and this one did not blow me away, but I found myself calling "Bullshit!!" less times than expected.

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