But nostalgia, rather than cultural or aesthetic criticism, is Workman's game. A flurry of movie and TV clips that send up Beat culture, a couple of Beat generation events on contemporary college campuses with many close-ups of worshipful young faces, and then we're back in New York in 1944 where Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Burroughs meet and change history. The thesis, such as it is, illustrated by chronologically ordered archival footage, follows a familiar trajectory. The Beat generation rebelled against the conformity and creeping consumerism of American post-World War II society. Poets and novelists, they were part of an art movement that also included abstract expressionist painting, bebop jazz, and underground film. Disconcerted when they were made the butt of the mainstream media, they dispersed to various corners of the world, but returned to become spokespersons of the '60s counterculture. Their celebration of the individual as outsider, bonded in rebellion with other outsiders, inspires successive generations of rock-and-rollers; their voices echo in the poetry slams of the '90s.
Written, directed, and produced by Chuck Workman
At Film Forum
Through September 7
Given that modesty was never a Beat virtue, it's not surprising that a film relying on insider testimony would have a self-congratulatory ring. But if The Source isn't informed with current reevaluations of the Beats, it does attempt to include a small acknowledgment of a feminist critique. There's a clip of filmmaker Shirley Clarke saying, "They got away with murder because what they were proselytizing was the male artist hero." It's followed by a clip of Ginsberg countering, "I don't think we were practicing machismo. Burroughs and I were queer, very sensitive and literary," and a clip of Burroughs tossing out the sardonic rejoinder "Some of my best friends are women." Since Clarke appears for 20 seconds quite early in the film and her argument never resurfaces, she is effectively silenced by everything that follows. I left The Source feeling as put down as I used to feel in the '60s. It didn't help that I knew why.
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