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Fox Lorber presents
The Source (1999)

"We were Beatniks, we revelled in it; we never called each other Beatniks. Then all of a sudden, in late 1966, early '67... you were no longer a Beatnik, you were a Hippie."
- Ed Sanders

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: July 03, 2000

Stars: Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg
Other Stars: Johnny Depp, Dennis Hopper, John Turturro
Director: Chuck Workman

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, nudity)
Run Time: 01h:28m:08s
Release Date: July 05, 2000
UPC: 720917522524
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B+C+B- C-

DVD Review

The Source is a 1999 documentary that approaches the Beat Generation from a contemporary perspective, tracing the evolution of "modern" American writing and art from the 1950's contributions of the Beats. Director Chuck Workman (Superstar: The Life and Times of Andy Warhol) focuses on major figures Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, with archival material on all three and new footage of Ginsberg reminiscing and Burroughs reading from his works. A number of significant figures who knew or were influenced by the masters contribute memories and thoughts—Ken Kesey, Ed Sanders and Gregory Corso are prominently featured, with shorter sound bites from Philip Glass, Paul Krassner, Timothy Leary, Terry Southern, Walter Cronkite and many others.

Workman enlivens the material with humor and irony, using pop-culture ephemera—media clips from movies, trailers, television series and news programs illuminate the conservative America of the time. He also uses a surprisingly effective interpretive device—Johnny Depp, John Turturro and Dennis Hopper appear briefly as Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs, respectively. These segments are thankfully NOT dramatizations, but readings from the authors' works, performed "in character" against stark city backgrounds. (Depp is apparently a fan of Kerouac, having purchased one of his old jackets according to a news clipping briefly glimpsed in the film.) I expected to find this "recreation" off-putting, but it actually works quite well—Depp and Turturro are particularly effective interpreters, while Hopper brings a mad energy to his reading that seems appropriate to a younger Burroughs, though the meaning of his words is less deeply felt.

The Source is laid out chronologically, a staid but coherent approach that supports Workman's thesis effectively, and the movie covers several decades in its 89-minute running time. Workman establishes a credible throughline from the truly underground, localized Beat pioneers who fought the Constitutional freedom battles of the 1950's, to the anything-goes counterculture of the 1960's, to the relatively-uncensored environment enjoyed by artists today (Wal-Mart aside). The pacing is a little uneven—some major points are glossed over, while interview clips are occasionally allowed to ramble on without adding much information. And the film's scope necessarily demands a degree of cultural literacy from its audience—Ken Kesey, the Fugs, the McCarthy hearings and more are referenced with little or no introduction. Some viewers will find this a starting point for further research, while others will enjoy its audiovisual exploration of a familiar subject. But the film speaks to both audiences, and its rich assemblage of images and personal impressions adds up to a satisfying whole.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Fox Lorber's 1.85:1 widescreen non-anamorphic DVD transfer of The Source is a bit difficult to judge, as the film draws from many sources of greatly varying quality. For the most part, it's a competent transfer—black levels are solid and detail is good in the 35mm footage shot by Workman, and some of the older clips are also preserved well. Some of the interview footage was shot on video and transferred to film, with very soft edges and visible color bleeding, and archival film sources are often faded or worn. Most of this disc's image flaws are directly attributable to the source, though digital compression artifacts turn up on several occasions, with a distracting "motion haze" floating over some particularly grainy black-and-white footage. Not a brilliant transfer, but certainly watchable—it's a documentary, after all.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The Source is presented in Dolby 2.0 Surround audio (slightly mislabeled as Stereo on the DVD packaging). Voices and archival footage audio are centered, with most background music rendered in front-stage stereo; the rear channel is used very rarely (perhaps unintentionally) and there's no significant bass-level activity. Virtually all of the audio was recorded live and carries near-constant hiss, with distracting echo in some scenes. But this is a documentary—speech is reasonably clear and comprehensible, music sounds good, and the digital transfer in no way interferes with enjoyment of the film.

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. Production Credits
  2. WinStar Video weblink
Extras Review: Fox Lorber delivers a standard, limited-value DVD extras package for The Source, though it's an improvement over most Fox Lorber discs I've seen:


The film's theatrical trailer, presented in 1.85:1 widescreen with decent image quality but excessive hiss in the audio.

Production Credits:

Simple text-screen production credits for the film (redundant with the credits) and the DVD release.

Filmographies & Awards:

Filmographies and Awards lists for director Chuck Workman, subjects Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs, and cast members Johnny Depp, John Turturro and Dennis Hopper. This section is nicely put together, even though no biographical information is included—comprehensive filmographies are provided for the original Beats (Burroughs was particularly active in films) and Fox Lorber has added a convenient "Page # of #" legend to these text screens, something I wish more DVD producers would do.


A simple DVD-ROM link to WinStar's website, with an alternate screen listing the address for standard DVD player use.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

Chuck Workman's The Source is a vivid exploration and oral history of the 1950's Beat Generation and its legacy, presented competently on DVD by Fox Lorber. Anyone with an interest in American cultural history will find it worthy viewing. Recommended.


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