The Beats hurled their crazy wisdom at the American establishment and its cozy marriage of suburbia and consumerism from the late 1940s through the counterculture of the 1960s. This extraordinarily complex documentary written, produced, and directed by Chuck Workman presents an overview of this unruly and obstreperous movement using archival footage and interviews with Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure, Ken Kesey, Gary Snyder, Neal Cassady, Norman Mailer, Terry Southern, Philip Glass, Tom Hayden, and many others.

The main focus is on the three nonconformist writers who met at Columbia in the late 1940s and shaped the Beat Generation: Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg. Throughout the documentary there are readings of their works by actors Johnny Depp, Dennis Hopper, and John Turturro. The Source shows how the Beats rebelled against the conventions of culture and spawned a revolution that seeped into music, art, politics, sexuality, and civil liberties. Today the spirit of these purveyors of crazy wisdom lives on in the protest poetry of teenagers, minorities, and other advocates of social and spiritual change.