I know so little about the Beat Generation. All I was taught in school were excerpts of On the Road and a shambles of a class reading of "Howl" in college. So in the dark am I regarding the nuances of the movement that The Beat Hotel, Alan Govenar's slight but engaging documentary, was more educational than all my English-department forays into the Beats put together. Offering a fondly recalled overview of the dingy Parisian roach motel for ex-pats, The Beat Hotel helped clarify the links between the Beat and Lost generations and how the former is the more harrowed, paranoid iteration of the latter. Anecdotes are touching, amusing, even a bit frightening (usually the ones involving William S. Burroughs), while the remembrances of the surviving witnesses of this time period are all universally the best kind of old person, the type who have just aged into great storytellers. It's overlong (despite only being 80 minutes long), but the movie does do a service to a still-underappreciated moment in our literary history. Besides, it made me run out and go buy Naked Lunch after finishing.
My full review is up now at Spectrum Culture.