Please excuse Judge Gordon Sullivan while he replaces his typewriter ribbon.
A 1-of-a-kind non-fiction portrait.
William S. Burroughs sits astride the 20th century like a malignant, creative cancer. His fictional function is justifiably well-known, and his literary themes, strategies, and style have influenced generations of writers. But what makes Burroughs so exciting is the way that his work—perhaps far more than any other author of the 20th century—influenced so a lot of items outside of literature. Bands are named after his work—The Soft Machine, Steely Dan—and he is influential in films and audio art as effectively. It’s no surprise, then, that he’s also 1 of the far more documented authors of the 20th century as properly. There have been numerous article and documentaries, along with appearances by Burroughs in films not strictly about him. Part of that legacy is Burroughs: The Movie, a beautiful gem from the people at Criterion.
Back in 1978, filmmaker Howard Brookner contacted William S. Burroughs (then in a single of his much less visible moments) to document him as a college project. Right after that initial series of meetings/interviews went nicely, Brookner worked more than the subsequent 5 years to flesh out the film to feature length. He sought interviews with Burroughs co-conspirators and admirers, from Patti Smith to Allen Ginsburg. The outcome is a film that tries to paint a far more impressionistic portrait of Burroughs rather than providing a strictly biographical overview. It languished for 30 years before Brookner’s nephew re-discovered the film and had it restored.
William S. Burroughs is a character of the highest order, and like other fantastic artists of the 20th century, his most enduring work was his life. From the reasonably properly-to-do life in St. Louis (exactly where he inherited each a small fortune and oddly Midwestern values) he bummed about for a couple of decades (like stints at Harvard and Columbia) ahead of settling into a life as a writer and (ultimately) a celebrity. He was completely willing to contain drug addiction and homosexuality in his books, helping to make both appear cool. Along the way he released spoken word collection that introduced listeners to his distinctive dry wit and outrageous persona.
Burroughs: The Film largely documents that persona. Brookner does an admirable job getting Burroughs to speak about a variety of subjects. We hear about his childhood, his addictions, his homosexuality, and even his shooting of wife Joan Vollmer (in the course of a game of William Tell, as the story goes). Burroughs is also very much able to run by way of some of his outrageous “routines,” providing a brief rant on a militia to protect homosexuals. There is, nevertheless, always the sense that Burroughs is inhabiting his character. This isn’t a knock on the film—I’m not sure we’d want or want a documentary on the “actual” William S. Burroughs. But these hunting for an unguarded look at the (in)renowned author will probably be a bit disappointed.
Though we have a surprising quantity of footage of Burroughs from his life, what makes Burroughs compelling is the other figures who seem before the camera. James Grauerholtz was Burroughs companion for a number of years, and is nonetheless his literary executor. Handful of knew him far better in the course of his life, so seeing him here is a good treat. Allen Ginsburg was saddled with the Beat tag in his youth, significantly like Burroughs, but also outgrew it. His reflections on a life with Burroughs are fascinating. Patti Smith appears as buddy and someone influenced by Burroughs approach. Much less well-known names—but no significantly less crucial to Burroughs life—include Brion Gysin (with whom Burroughs pioneered his “cut-up” tactics) and Terry Southern.
Regardless of languishing for 3 decades, Burroughs has received a pretty all through restoration process to arrive at this Blu-ray release. The 1.33:1/1080p AVC-encoded image is extremely sturdy through, provided the limitations of spending budget and format. There is a little bit of dirt and a couple of spots of hair, but otherwise the source is in really great situation. Grain is apparent throughout, but handled effectively. Colors are appropriately saturated to the film stocks of the time, and black levels are surprisingly deep and constant. It doesn’t appear like a contemporary documentary by any stretch, but for a forgotten, indie documentary from 1983, this appears fairly remarkable. The set’s LPCM 1. mono track is equally impressive. Dialogue is practically constantly perfectly clean and clear, with only a couple of circumstances of it edging into distortion. Even these moments are just as most likely to be the supply as a difficulty with this track.
Extras, though, are exactly where this release shines, and arguably outstrip the function itself. Items kick off with a fascinating commentary track by Jim Jarmusch. Jarmusch has extended been a friend of the folks at Criterion, and he seems right here because he was the sound guy on Burroughs. He shares insights into the film’s origins, production, and afterlife. It’s a personal, engaging track. The second jewel in the set’s crown is a collection of outtakes from the film. At 69 minutes, it’s virtually as significantly material as the film itself and includes bits of interviews, Burroughs’ appearance at a convention, and Burroughs giving viewers a tour of his arsenal. Brookner seems in an archival interview discussing the film, and his nephew appears to go over his efforts to restore the film. We also get a Q&A from the New York Film festival that characteristics a number of participants discussing the film soon after a post-restoration screening. The disc also includes an alternate edit of the function that uses 24 minutes to offer you a lightning-quick portrait of Burroughs. It really is most likely not anything most people will watch a lot more than after, but it attributes some intriguing choices. Lastly, the usual Criterion booklet is a large, fold-out affair with a fantastic essay by Luc Sante.
The film suffers from a couple of issues. The most obvious is that Brookner starts out as a filmmaking student—a senior, sure, but not however a master documentarian. Some of the film feels rough unintentionally, as Brookner was still studying his craft. That may well also clarify the way the film does not seem to have a structure. Even though Burroughs is clearly renowned for his non-sequiturs and reduce-ups, it is a challenging method to master. It signifies that Burroughs usually bounces around with out any apparent rhyme or explanation, even though also not giving the impression of insight via juxtaposition that the ideal cut-up material can do.
Even though it possibly won’t have broad appeal outside those currently familiar with William S. Burroughs, Burroughs: The Movie is a great portrait of the author’s persona. The people at Criterion have completed their usual excellent job with an extras-packed Blu-ray that fans will want to own.