Chuck Workman’s documentary about the Beat Generation is a muddled, yet engaging blip of nostalgia. The title suggests that the film’s focus be the genesis of the notorious literary/social movement in the 50’s — where after Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg met at Columbia University, they 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) or their notorious antics; Kerouac’s drinking and Burroughs shooting of his wife.
“The Source” works best when it employs archived footage of its subjects, pointedly expressing social criticism, debunking their critics or simply reading prose. Johnny Depp, John Turturro and Dennis Hopper pop up as dramatized incarnations of the Beats and other period legends like Ken Kesey, Jerry Garcia, Bob Dylan and even Timothy Leary chime in. The brief footage of Kerouac protege, Neal Cassady makes for an amusing side show, but the film belongs to Burroughs. When in pundit mode, he’s sharp, witty and hysterically humorous.