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3 reviews, 2 user ratings

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Source, The (1999)
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by Thom

"Excellent documentary about the legacy of the Beat writers."
5 stars

The fathers of the Beat movement are featured past, present and future. Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Timothy Leary while still alive, and a slew of other early Beat writers discuss the past.

Footage of Kerouac, photographs and monologues delivered by Johnnie Depp as Kerouac, Dennis Hopper as Burroughs and John Turturro as Ginsberg fill in The Source as a testament of the American Bohemian tradition. Times do change. The most memorable part of the film for me is when someone is telling a story about talking to some punk rock boy who asked him what happened to the Beats. He replied, "you are us". And its so true.

This is one of those films that just changed me. I already knew the Beats were the first to really crack open America and question it out loud and Ginsberg had organized the first Be-In in San Francisco in 1967, turning all the Beats into Hippies practically overnight. Not to mention, he wrote Howl, which is as prescient today as it was when it was written. The Beats "got it". They had it all figured out and went and wrote it all down so that I would "get it" too some day. They hadn't set out to to do that. But it happened.

The Source dug around in the co-opting of beat cool by the mainstream as basically a joke. The squares were all over it, man.
And in so many ways, nothing has changed.

I personally owe so much to the beats for vivifying the American bohemian tradition and paving the way for my own creative, anarchic sensibilities. And I didn't even have to get beat up (much) because of it. I can't say they were a primary influence.

They did show up in this excerpt from a short story I wrote once. The infamous story that got me fired from a job a couple of years ago.

Kafka was one of those writers that when read in your youth, made you feel as if you discovered the one person who would ever truly understand you. The way some people feel about Hesse in those heady, pot smoking, desperately trying to
be bohemian college days. Clay was not particularly interested in the psychedelic ramblings of Timothy Leary and the
crowd that thought he was some kind of god and avoided all that pseudo eastern aesthetic, and the writers associated with
it. He wasn't convinced he'd find any more truth in a mushroom than in the Ramayana or the book of Job. Although, he had eventually read On the Road, long after it was the fashionable age to discover the beats, because he didn't want to be unduly
influenced by the mass consciousness. There is not much buddhism in that novel except for some kind of unspoken zen, which could be mistaken for the existentialism of Camus' Mersault. The numb acceptance of the events that seem to occur on their own, the lack of judgement, the amoral stance, all felt cold to Clay and wondered why it was that he couldn't put down the novel until he realized that the book dripped with life. As if something in America had exploded and made possible the wild abandon that his friends took for granted. Clay wondered if perhaps, we had Kerouac to think for injecting a European style bohemianism and nomadism into American culture.

I actually did wait a long time to read On The Road so I could make sure that I was being who I was because that is who I was and not because I was just trying out the latest personality. The Beats influence, however, is like incense. The scent is just in the air, even if you can't see the stick. I caught a big whiff here in the San Francisco area where I grew up and I feel particularly proud of identifying as a product of what the Beats were doing. Lawrence Ferlinghetti still owns City Lights bookstore in North Beach and every year reads at the Anarchist Book Fair.

Bonus Review

The film screened at the Fine Arts Cinema in Berkeley. The Fine Arts Cinema is a true independant theatre showing independant films for people who love film and it has to be my favorite place to see movies. (Incidentally, the original owner and builder of the theatre was Pauline Kael, famed New York Times movie reviewer until later converting to a porn theatre and then a Bombay Cinema theatre.) The programmer opened The Source with a short called "Pie Fight 1969". The San Francisco International Film Festival in 1969 used to be more or less a "society" event. Completely mainstream. Its not like that now but it was then.

In 1969, months before I was even born, a theatre group staged a publicity stunt. They planted people in the crowd and at a certain time, a white van showed up and out comes a man with a tray of pies. One of the plants "accidentily" bumps into him and knocks over the pies. The other plants then begin to pick up the pies and throw them around. The coiffured crowd was not impressed.

And while this was happening, three camermen were filming. The press ate it up but the footage was never edited and the group didn't feel like their goal was accomplished. They were hoping to attract the attention of some wealthy kid who thought they were hip and would give them money to finish a film. 30 years later, the footage as found and edited into this 15 minute gem. The narrator never imagined the footage would be of any value. I'm glad the short was made. I think it has tremendous historical value. Nuns throwing pies and mimes roller skating around with brooms pretending to sweep up the mess. And every generation thinks they invent this stuff. There are some pretty cool 60 year olds out there.

Ironic: n. The beats were once villified by the academic literary establishment, called "adolescent". Now they are revered as a cornerstone of American Literature.

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originally posted: 11/28/00 18:12:47
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User Comments

12/11/05 brandie loved it 5 stars
6/05/04 tatum Fantastic...and not because "Johnny is soooo hot" 5 stars
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Directed by
  Chuck Workman

Written by
  Chuck Workman

  Johnny Depp
  Dennis Hopper
  John Turturro

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