Since the Beat Generation refers to a group of writers who were making history over half a century ago, it may be a little difficult to find video footage of them. But here is a list of some of the Beat Generation documentaries that best capture the counter-cultural phenomenon and the people that were involved.
Directed by Jerry Aronson
This documentary explores the life and work of the greatest poet of the Beat Generation. Allen Ginsberg was a renowned poet, political activist, radical, founding member of the Beat Movement, Buddhist and teacher. For 25 years, Jerry Aronson accumulated over 120 hours of film on Ginsberg, sharing with viewers exclusive interviews with friends and family and a behind the scenes look at one of America’s greatest poets.
The film includes footage of Ginsberg’s public readings, most notably Howl, and examines his work as a musician and political activist. Now updated to DVD, the compilation also includes new interviews with the latest generation of literary artists.
West Coast Beat & Beyond (1982)
Directed by Chris Felver
Filmed in San Francisco’s North Beach and at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, this film portrays the most significant members and influences of the Beat movement.
West Coast: Beat and Beyond is narrated by Kerouac’s biographer, Gerald Nicosia and features rare appearances by Jan Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Joanne Kyger, Bob Kaufman, Philip Lamantia, and Ken Kesey.
Directed by Maria Beatty
In 1989, director Maria Beatty created a film that explores the insights and influences of the American Beat Poets. In a series of interviews, from the original Beats to today’s great poets, the documentary expresses the Beat consciousness and shows how one group of literary artists inspired social change.
The original film went to DVD for the first time in 2008 and the digitally re-mastered edition is being distributed by MVD Video.
The Source (1999)
Directed by Chuck Workman
Tracing the Beat movement and its impacts from the very first meeting of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac at Columbia University in 1944 and their friend, William S. Burroughs.
In re-enactments, the film chronicles the friendships of the Beats, their travels, successes and their struggles. It also touches on Kerouac’s death in 1969 and the deaths of Ginsberg and Burroughs, both in 1997.
Burroughs: The Movie (1983)
Directed by Howard Brookner
This is a biographical documentary on author William S. Burroughs, who was best known for his novels Naked Lunch and Junky. Along with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, Burroughs was a founding member of the Beat movement, which paved the way for future hippies. The film follows Burroughs around the U.S., London and Morocco and features interviews with some of his closest friends.
Directed by Janet Forman
Narrated by former Tonight Show host, Steve Allen, this documentary reveals the meaning of Beat in the conformist 50s. Founding members of the Beat movement, such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso and Neal Cassady speak out against mainstream American values and express their desire for a free society.