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R: ARCHIVE, S: MOVIES, D: 09/16/1999,

The Source

Chuck Workman's documentary about the Beat Generation is a muddled yet engaging blip of nostalgia. The title suggests that the film's focus might be the genesis of the notorious literary/social movement in the '50s that arose after Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg met at Columbia University and took up with elder Beat statesman William S. Burroughs. But it's really a loose chronology of the three Beats' lives recklessly interspersed with a broad smattering of cultural icons along the way. There's little historical structure in Workman's excitedly romantic ode, and the film hardly slows down to acknowledge the authors' cornerstone achievements: On the Road (Kerouac), Naked Lunch (Burroughs), and Howl (Ginsberg).

The Source works best when it offers archival footage of its subjects pointedly expressing social criticism, debunking their critics, or simply reading from their works. Johnny Depp, John Turturro, and Dennis Hopper pop up to dramatize works by the Beats; period legends like Ken Kesey, Jerry Garcia, Bob Dylan, and Timothy Leary also appear. The brief footage of Kerouac protégé Neal Cassady makes for an amusing sideshow, but the film belongs to Burroughs. When in pundit mode, he's sharp, witty, and hysterically humorous.

-- Tom Meek