Chuck Workman's The Source: The Beats as Beginning (review)
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 30, Number 2, 2000
- pp. 78-79
- Additional Information
Regular Feature | Film Reviews others, shed light on Evans' legacy within the history of modern photo-aesthetics. The film's real contribution, however, involves several carefully edited interviews Pakay conducted with Evans in the early sixties. Although in many instances the aging subject's garbled speech is nearly impossible to comprehend, such snippets nevertheless afford the viewer the opportunity to observe Evans' own assessment ofhis life's work both apart from, and in response to, popular and scholarly critique. Here we witness a stereotypically disheveled, gray-haired, chain-smoking artist who seems suitably reflexive yet unrepentant about his personal and professional choices. Lionized as one of the 20ltl century's most influential social reformists for his work with the FSA, Evans eschews such characterizations by explaining that the job simply allowed him to pay the rent while photographing subjects of personal interest. Lauded forhis movingportrayal offamilial endurance in times ofcrisis (particularly for the images included in the coauthored book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men), interviews with both ofEvans' ex-wives suggest his own commitmentto family was less than exemplary. Yet for all the quirks and frailties these interviews reveal, Evans' passion, vision and dedication to the medium are equally evident as he talks about searching for ways to exploit photography's unique characteristics and his belief in its power to effect real social change. Throughout the film's chronological sampling of Evans' life and accomplishment, one is continually impressed with the scope and innovation of this photographer's work. He was one of the first in a long and continuous line ofphotographers to producejournalistic , collaborative photobooks—a format more permanent and carefully designed than afleeting newspaperreport. His photographs for writer Lincoln Kierstein ofGothic Victorian architecture in New England capturedasliceofAmericanathathas since all butdisappeared in the name ofmodernization. AndEvans' GuggenheimFellowship, twenty years as astaffphotographerandchiefeditoratFortunemagazine , and twelve years at Yale attest to his professionalism and work ethic. Like somany ofthe greatdocumentaryphotographers, Evans's photographs manage to solidify the material world while destabilizing the ideologies that supportit. His detail ofamovie poster speaks to 1940sAmerica's obsession with celebrity while its torn edges signal aloss oftheReal long before such aconcepteven emerged within postmodern scholarship. Covertly fascinating, his portraits of subway passengers taken with a concealed camera foreshadowed the ubiquitous presence of surveillance cameras in our daily lives. In short, it is not difficult for Pakay's film to heroicize an artist whose work has been arguably heroic in its achievement and scope. One ofthe film's true weaknesses, however, is its tendency to spend more time telling us how great Evans' photographs are and too little time convincing us of their value via close formal analysis. Equally disturbingisPakay's subtleyetinsistentwhitewashingofhismentor's life and his work. Evans' staunch refusal to adopt or promote partisan politics withrespect to hisphotographs did notnegatetheirongoingpoliticizedreception andimpact. His famous portraitofAlabama sharecropper wife and mother Ellie Mae Burroughs may well represent the height of the objective documentary style (frontal pose, no manipulation ofnegative, black and whitefilm) but, as photograthers like Alan Sekula and Martha Rosier and many others pointed out repeatedly since the 1980s, this style ofphotography did as much to reinforce and advance social stereotypes as it did to eradicate them. Evans' work has been the subject of an ongoing larger controversy infrom one of Evans' own photographic productions: point, shoot, don't retouch, and let the viewers decide the picture's merits and demerits for themselves, warts and all. Leesa Rittelmann Hartwick College firstname.lastname@example.org Chuck Workman's The Source: The Beats as Beginning (Distributed by WinStar Cinema) http://www.winstarcinema.com/carsc/html/catalog.html. The Source is a compilation film on the last fifty years of counterculture with re-creation footage of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs played by Johnny Depp, John Turturro, and Dennis Hopper, respectively. The Source opens with the real Allen Ginsberg, seated at a small desk in an otherwise empty white room, leafing through a photo album. Next is a Beat festival at NYU at which Burroughs phones in his interview from Lawrence, Kansas. A few cuts later, a tour guide at Columbia University identifies the 1944 campus meeting of Kerouac and Ginsberg as the genesis or source of modern counterculture...