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The Beats on Film

There have been several films/documentaries made about the Beats and the Beat Generation. I've included some of the most notable ones here along with links to additional information. Comments, suggestions and amendments are welcome via email.

Some information for this page was researched on the Internet Movie Database. Links to IMDB and other external pages will launch within a new browser window.

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The Source (1999)
Written and directed by Chuck Workman
Starring: Dennis Hopper, Johnny Depp and John Turturro as William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, respectively.

When Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs met at Columbia University in the 1940’s, they spawned a movement, then called the Beats, that set precedents for the political, hippie and spiritual movements of the 1960s and ‘70s. this comprehensive portrait of the Beat generation includes interviews with virtually every surviving figure from this period. Johnny Depp, Dennis Hopper and John Turturro perform dramatized readings of works by Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg. The Source is the definitive film portrait of the Beat Generation and the counterculture movements that followed, by Academy Award winning director Chuck Workman.
(Summary from Express.com)

Beat (2000)
Written and directed by Gary Walkow
Starring: Kiefer Sutherland William S. Burroughs, Courtney Love as Joan Vollmer, Ron Livingston as Allen Ginsberg, Daniel Martinez as Jack Kerouac, Norman Reedus as Lucien Carr and Kyle Secor as Dave Kammerer

This movie is basically about William S. Burroughs and his wife, Joan Vilmer. It begins with Lucien Carr's murder of Dave Kammerer in NYC (Click here for the rest of that story). According to the film's producer, Donald Zuckerman, all the scenes were filmed at the actual locations where they took place. The Mexico apartment footage was filmed at the actual location where William Burroughs and his wife Joan lived. The film makers used the apartment across the street because the actual apartment had been demolished.

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Naked Lunch (1991)
Written by William S. Burroughs (novel) and David Cronenberg
Directed by David Cronenberg
Starring: Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm, Julian Sands and Roy Scheider

Not an adaptation of beat writer William S. Burrough's novel but a mix of biography and an interpretation of his drug- induced writing processes combined with elements of his work in this paranoid fantasy about Bill Lee, a writer who accidentally shoots his wife, whose typewriter transforms into a cockroach and who becomes involved in a mysterious plot in an Islamic port called Interzone. Wonderfully bizarre, not unlike Burrough's books.
(Summary from Keith Loh on IMDB)

The Subterraneans (1960)
Written by Jack Kerouac (novel) and Robert Thom
Directed by Ranald MacDougall
Starring: Leslie Carron, George Peppard, Janice Rule, Roddy McDowall, and Anne Seymour

It's difficult to find much information on this film and I'm guessing from what I have been able to dig up that it's because it was such a bad one.

Literary Kicks' Levi Asher remarks, "From what I've heard it's a horrific attempt to translate the Beat mystique into Hollywood product. George Peppard plays the character based on Kerouac, Jim Hutton is Allen Ginsberg, and Roddy McDowall is Gregory Corso. Most incredibly, the black girl who the Kerouac and Corso characters fight over is played by Leslie Caron ('Gigi') who is, well, um ... she's white. There goes the interracial aspect. The jazz soundtrack was supplied by Andre Previn. I hope to find a way to see this film. Sometimes there's nothing as much fun as a really, really bad movie. From what I hear, this is one."

Renowned reviewer, Leonard Maltin, simply states, "Glossy, superficial study of life and love among the beatniks, with pure cornball stereotype performances; MGM was not the studio for this one."

A rare still from this movie can be seen in The Beat Page photo gallery here.

The Beat Generation (1959)
Written by Richard Matheson and Lewis Meltzer
Directed by Charles F. Haas
Starring Steve Cochran, Mamie Van Doren, Ray Danton, Fay Spain, Maggie Hayes, Jackie Coogan and Louis Armstrong

The wild, weird, world of the Beatniks! ...Sullen rebels, defiant chicks...searching for a life of their own! The pads...the jazz...the dives... those frantic "way-out" parties... beyond belief!

Leonald Maltin Summary:
Exploitation-type story of detective Cochran tracking down insane sexual assaulter;
vivid sequences marred by hokey script. Retitled "This Rebel Age". CinemaScope.

Rare stills from this movie can be seen in The Beat Page photo gallery here and here.