Beat (2000)

Description   [from Freebase]

Beat is 2000 drama film written and directed by Gary Walkow, concerning the period of writer William S. Burroughs's life that he spent with his wife, the late Joan Vollmer, leading up to her accidental murder in 1951. The film stars Kiefer Sutherland as Burroughs, Courtney Love as Joan, Norman Reedus as Lucien Carr, and Ron Livingston as Allen Ginsberg. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2000. The film opens with Vollmer balancing a water tumbler on her head as Burroughs, her husband, aims a gun at her as she entices him to shoot her. The film then cuts to Joan and Burroughs in the months prior in Mexico City, as Burroughs is leaving on a trip to Guatemala to meet his male lover, Lee. Joan, despondent to William's affair and his disinterest in her, is left to take care of their two children while he goes on his vacation. Various flashbacks from that point on tell the story of the 1944 murder of their mutual friend Dave Kammerer in New York City, while Joan was a student at Columbia University. Dave was killed by Lucien Carr (Norman Reedus) after he made unwanted sexual advances on him.


Judy Davis might have commanded the definitive Joan Vollmer role in Naked Lunch, but in Beat, Courtney Love makes a not-half-bad at reinterpreting the last weeks of her life before being accidentally(?) shot in the head during a William Tell parlor trick by her famed writer husband William S. Burroughs.

Set in broken down Mexico City, the film finds Vollmer receiving a visit from beat-heads Allen Ginsburg (Ron Livingston) and Lucien Carr (Norman Reedus). (Carr, a minor figure in beat history, was a UPI reporter responsible for introducing many of the beats to one another as well as inspiring Jack Kerouac to type On the Road on a roll of teletype paper.) Burroughs (Kiefer Sutherland) is off on one of his bisexual booty calls, leaving his wife to ponder whether she should stay with her philandering husband (being no faithful lap dog herself) or skip town and return with her two kids to New York with Lucien and Allen. (Her very short history should tell you which route she actually chose.)

A loving portrait of the early beat lifestyle, Gary Walkow’s ode to Vollmer is sweet and endearing, despite its tragic finale. The four lead players all imbue their characters with substanial flair, especially Sutherland’s mannered and deadpan witticisms. The direction is capable if short of masterful (and sometimes Walkow’s shots make it all to obvious he’s trying to create a pretty shot, eventually making it painfully clear you’re watching a movie). As well, the story’s point-a-to-point-b plotting gets the job done with hardly a wasted line — and without a second to spare, clocking in at about 78 minutes. Zoom!

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