Director: Gary Walkow
Screenwriters: Gary Walkow

Institute History

  • 2000 Sundance Film Festival


William Burroughs lived long enough to perform on Saturday Night Live. Allen Ginsberg appeared in GAP ads, but one central figure of the Beat movement never moved beyond obscurity. Joan Burroughs died of a gunshot wound delivered by her own husband. Beat is the true story of the events leading up to that fatal day. Joan was the center of a circle of friends who would later become the Beats. They all lived on the edge, and they all shared a gift for falling in love with the wrong people. It is 1951, and William (Kiefer Sutherland) and Joan (Courtney Love) are living in Mexico City. When old friends Ginsberg (Ron Livingston) and Lucien Carr (Norman Reedus) drive down for a visit, William has taken off to Guatemala with another man. Joan is feeling low but is captivated by the idea of a car trip to an erupting volcano. On the road, Joan and Lucien fall in love. When William returns home, there is a confrontation over the obvious flaws in their marriage which ends in a drunken game of William Tell.

The Beat Generation has been both celebrated and reviled for its own iconography. Shot in Mexico in the actual locations, Gary Walkow’s evocative new film (his Notes from Underground played in the 1996 Festival) allows the truth to stand on its own. The poetic dialogue seeks to distinguish the real from the myth. These are living people with complex emotions and human flaws. Excellent performances round out this lyrical account of unrequited love and the chaos it inspires.

— John Cooper

Screening Details

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