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With: Johnny Depp, Dennis Hopper, John Turturro, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Timothy Leary, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure, Ken Kesey, Gregory Corso, Ed Sanders, Amiri Baraka, Jerry Garcia, Tom Hayden, Gary Snyder, Robert Creeley, Glass, Amram, Jack Kerouac, Dylan, Shirley Clark, Diane DiPrima, Robert Motherwell, Norman Mailer, Terry Southern, Neal Cassady
Written by: Chuck Workman
Directed by: Chuck Workman
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 89
Date: 10/17/1999

The Source (1999)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Feel the Beat

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Opening at the Castro, Chuck Workman's The Source is the latest, and surely not the last, documentary on the 'Beat' movement of the 1950's. The Source is a compact but accomplished work focusing on the holy trinity of the Beats: Jack Kerouac, Allan Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs. The artwork for the movie uses an old photo of these three walking down the street, supremely confident and radiating greatness.

I am already a fan of the Beats and I thoroughly enjoyed myself at The Source. I'm not sure how this 90-minute documentary will work in trying to convince newcomers that there really was something significant going on in their writings. This film doesn't seem to be complete in the way that Ken Burns' The Civil War (1990) or Claude Lanzmann's Shoah (1985) were. But there is plenty of great vintage footage of the three writers, as well as many of their contemporaries, such as Bob Dylan, Neal Cassady, Jerry Garcia, Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey, and our own Lawrence Ferlinghetti at City Lights bookstore. The movie also daringly enlists the aid of Johnny Depp, John Turturro, and Dennis Hopper to read the works of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs, respectively.

Director Workman intersperses his documentary with footage of mainstream TV shows and movies, such as "The Flintstones," Steve Martin on "Saturday Night Live," "Happy Days," etc., giving us an idea of how the general public perceived the Beats. An Oscar-winning filmmaker (for his live action short Precious Images, 1987) Workman has put together trailers for such films as Star Wars and montages for the Oscar broadcasts. The Source is obviously a work of passion for him, and his passion worked on me. I was thrilled and inspired by it.

In 2018, Kino Lorber released a new DVD version of The Source, which is now looking more and more like the definitive documentary on the Beats. It doesn't appear to have been upgraded in any way. It has no extras, other than a trailer, and the picture (made up of lots of archival footage) is only average. But the sentiment is still there, and The Source is recommended.

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