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This 89-minute semidocumentary places the Beat writers within a sociological context. Using film and video footage from the Fifties and recent interviews with Beats Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, and Allen Ginsberg, The Source tries to show the societal constraints these writers struggled to burst out of and the fear of The Bomb that pervaded their lives. The "source" of the title refers to the three original members of the Beat Generation: Jack Kerouac, Ginsberg, and William Burroughs. Kerouac provided the photogenic, angelic hipster mythic icon of the dissatisfied outsider in both his semiautobiographical novel, On the Road, and in his personal life. Ginsberg's masterful poetic work Howl changed how the world read and listened to poetry. Burroughs introduced Kerouac and Ginsberg to the underbelly of Manhattan's drug and hustler scenes before he wrote his famous cut-up novel, Junky. In addition to footage of the three men, including some furtive shots of Burroughs shooting up (note: this scene might not make the film attractive to a school library), actors portray and read lines of the Beat three: Johnny Depp is Kerouac, John Turturro reads Howl, and Dennis Hopper puts in a performance as Burroughs. Some of the most thrilling raw footage is that of Neal Cassady, on whom the main character of On the Road is modeled. Quick, jumpy Cassady, who was talked about with reverence by Ken Kesey. Why Kesey? Well, one thing this documentary tries to do is stretch to connect the sociodots from the Beats to the hippies to the antiwar movement to all social and psychological freedoms we experience today. Why does this film seem long after 50 minutes? Perhaps it is the disjointed, fast-paced cuts from scenes like Kerouac on The Steve Allen Show to two-second bursts of 1950s TV shows and auto ads that become a mosquito-like annoyance buzzing away any hope for a cohesive narrative. Beat historian Stephen Ronan should have been allowed more onscreen time to explain how the Beats morphed from a group of writers into a major American social movement. If he had, this well-meaning film would have had a sense of unity rather than being an interesting attempt to fuse an experimental art film within a documentary format. Still, for trying to place the Beats within the social fabric, this is recommended for pubic and college libraries.AGardner Haskell, San Francisco P.L.
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