They got the Beat

Critic's choice: TV

May 28, 2000

My favorite moment in "The Source: The Story of the Beats and the Beat Generation" finds Ken Kesey explaining how heavy drugs were used by him and some of his fellow writers to radically alter perception so that they might see the world in new ways and then record those visions for their readers.

But it's different today, the author of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" says. "Now we just get up, drink a lot of coffee and do the best we can."

"The Source," a 90-minute film by Chuck Workman on the ideological foundations of the Beat movement, is one of the smartest and most seamlessly crafted documentaries I have seen this year. It helps explain the Beats better than any single film or book I have seen, but its greatest triumph is chronicling their influence on mainstream American culture today.

There are wall-to-wall interviews with everyone who was anyone: Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure. Neal Cassady, Timothy Leary and Jack Kerouac to name a very few of those who appear either in archived conversations or interviews conducted for the film.

There are dramatic readings by John Turturro, Johnny Depp and Dennis Hopper that are near perfect in capturing the energy, edge and anger of "Howl," "On the Road" and "Naked Lunch." Depp is a revelation.

And underneath all the images and words there's a soundtrack that ranges from Stan Getz and Dizzy Gillespie to The Doors and Natalie Merchant.

"The Source" airs Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on MPT (Channels 22 and 67).

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