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Fox Lorber presents
The Source (1999)

"Only the young bring anything in, and they are not young for long."
- William S. Burroughs

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: July 03, 2000

Stars: Johnny Depp, Dennis Hopper, John Turturro
Other Stars: Allan Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Gary Snyder
Director: Chuck Workman

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for language, full frontal nudity
Run Time: 01h:28m:17s
Release Date: July 05, 2000
UPC: 720917522524
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-BB+ C-

DVD Review

Sometimes it's fun to trace back where we are now, and see what unlikely chain of circumstances got us here. This is in great part the theme of the 1999 Chuck Workman documentary about the creators of the Beat Generation, notably Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. The genesis of many of the attitudes forged in the 1960's and 1970's were deeply rooted in the thoughts and writings of these three men.

The Source takes us on a tour of their writings and their movement, both with vintage footage, 1990's interviews of Ginsberg, Burroughs and other notables such as poets Gary Snyder and Gregory Corso, and acted interpretations of the central triad by Johnny Depp (Kerouac), Dennis Hopper (Burroughs) and John Turturro (Ginsberg). The end result flows quite nicely, giving us a history of their movement, which began as just wanting to share their writings, through the development into the hippies, the changes that came on as the leaders grew older, and the mainstreaming and coopting of the Beats. The latter is amusingly illustrated with clips from Steve Martin to Dobie Gillis and The Beverly Hillbillies.

The one failing of the presentation is that the documentary assumes you know who the players are (for instance, Gregory Corso is hardly a household word, but he gets no introduction other than his name briefly flashed on the screen). However, for those who have at least a passing familiarity with the names, the film is highly informative.

We get reminiscences of the epochal reading at 6 Gallery, where Ginsberg's Howl first hit the public, as well as the founding of the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. The film also touches on the censorship which hit the movement hard, and the resultant publicity which ironically increased their readership immeasurably. Despite their sometimes lurid verse and prose, the one affirming principle that all of the interviewees emphasize is the purity of heart that was at the center of the movement, with joy and sincerity of expression at its core. We get the romanticism of the Beats' rebellion, but the film doesn't shy away from the seamier side of things, such as Burroughs' killing of his wife and his heroin addiction.

The reenactments and performance/readings by Depp and Hopper are good, but John Turturro's incredibly intense performance of Howl really gets at the anger and frustration that permeate the poem; he truly steals the show with this passionate performance. Workman helps him with his camera, constantly keeping him on the move through urban settings as he delivers the fierce words of the poem with a dazzling fervor. The film is worth seeing for this moment alone.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The image quality is good, considering the widely variable source material. Portions are shot on video, and it shows. The period films of Kerouac are predictably in the worst shape, but they are certainly watchable. The vintage color films tend slightly to the red hue, but this is a source issue, and it also helps parse out the older materials from the more modern. Colors tend to be slightly washed out, even in the newer segments. A dark grey is about as close to black as the picture gets. Shadow detail is decent.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The audio is a fairly good 2.0 stereo track. There is limited noise and hiss; the hiss that is present is usually from the older footage. Although the sound is stereo, there is very little directionality to be heard. Dialogue sounds natural throughout, although on the older tapes it can be a little difficult to make out; at times I longed for subtitles on this disc.

The music is a composite of period jazz including such luminaries as John Coltrane, and a lyrical and haunting score by David Amram and minimalist Philip Glass. The music comes through quite nicely indeed. Overall, a satisfactory sound experience, but not a flashy one, and thus well suited to the subject matter.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 8 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. List of awards for cast and crew
Extras Review: The extras are fairly limited, but somewhat more than on many Fox Lorber releases. There is a theatrical trailer, and filmographies for Workman, Depp, Hopper, Turturro, Kerouac, Burroughs (who has an amazingly large filmography) and Ginsberg. A list of the awards the preceding names have won is also included. There is also a weblink to Winstar Video's website. The chaptering is quite inadequate; a program of this length and density of content ought to have 20 or more chapters instead of a measly eight.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

This documentary gives a great deal of background on the Beats and conveys a great deal of the mood of their movement. Those who are completely unfamiliar with them may want to do a little research first, but The Source is worth the effort, if nothing more than Turturro's virtuoso performance of Howl. The film goes a long ways toward helping one understanding how we got to where we are today.


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