A "YouTube" film clip of "beat" fixtures, Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady.
The Source, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso, and a gang of other poets, pranksters, and preachers of the beat in the 1950, 1999
Over the past several months I have, seemingly, grabbed every film documentary about the “beat” literary movement of the 1950s that I could get my hands on. This film, “The Source”, continues that quest. And why am I interested in this movement, essentially a literary movement and not particularly, at least overtly, a consciously political movement that would not seem to fit in with other literary movements that I have given space to here? Well the short answer is that I just like the free verse spontaneous literary styles of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and company. More to the point I have been trying, as this documentary and others reviewed in this space have attempted as well, to link the liberating effects of that 1950s scene as forbears of my own generation, the Generation of ’68, a much less literary-inclined generation.
That idea sets one of the parameters of my interest. Another is the question of what of this collective wealth of archival footage, interviews and readings that virtually all the films reviewed have presented gives the best idea of what was going on then for those of us who were really too young (or were not born yet)to appreciate this breathe of fresh air. This effort is one the better ones for two reasons. First, the producers have established clearly who they believe are (as I do) the central players in this drama, the above-mentioned Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs. Of course, the “beat’ scene is not complete without recognizing the role that madman-for-all seasons Neal Cassady, Zen-master poet Gary Snyder, street poet Gregory Corso, Michael McClure, Lawrence Ferlinghetti (if for no other reason that the establishment of the City Lights Bookstore, a central hangout) , and host of other minor poets, hangers-on and crazies played. They are given space here, as well. But without the core literary/philosophical leadership of the three there make not have been such a phenomenon.
Secondly, and more importantly, in recognition of that centrality the producers have given over a fair amount of time for a rather short documentary (about an hour and a half) to extensive readings of Kerouac’s work (by Johnny Depp) , Allen Ginsberg’s ground-breaking and defining “Howl”, and Burroughs “Naked Lunch” (by Dennis Hopper, who else, right?). These readings are important. “Beat” was driven by the sounds of jazz and the blues, among other aural influences so the sounds (and nuances) of the works are more critical than more cerebral efforts. Although to our current ears much of this may sound self-indulgent this was the breakout sound of the “beats”, and to paraphrase Kerouac’s ending to “On The Road”, the sound of the fathers, the fathers that we never knew, Kerouac/Ginsberg/Burroughs.