William S Burroughs was the third hit of the 1-2-3 combo of Alan Ginsberg’s Howl, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, and Burroughs’ Naked Lunch which closed out the 50s and defined the so-called “beat generation.” This film documents the significance of Burroughs work as a part of this scene, and the influence he had on artists, musicians, filmmakers, and countless others.
Ranging from his birth to his death, this film sets out to simultaneously ask questions and answer them with regards to the arguments about what made Burroughs who he was. It asks if he transgressed sexuality, whether we deserved the mantle of “Godfather of Punk,” would he be the sort of writer he is if he was not a drug addict or if he had not shot his wife dead? To answer, director Yony Leyser interviews his closest companions and sincerest fans.
Said interviews paint a very thorough portrait of this man who was disgusted by the state, adored cats and firearms, and created beautiful works of art, be they visual or written, or performed, right up until his death. Many celebrities hovered around him, and we get splendid home movies of Patti Smith playing in his living room, Alan Ginsberg, his dearest friend, sharing thoughts over drinks, rockers Sonic Youth touring his backyard sex meditation chamber (I recommend you watch the film instead of asking me to explain), and John Waters proving once again that he truly is the definition of a Devil’s Advocate, as he sells Burroughs to us all.
Burroughs lived as part reckless celebrity who fired bullets around his property and cheated death on many occasions, part venomous critic who could take apart all that he saw around him with his genius grip on language as his weapon, and part tender soul who loved deeply for his friends and animals, even though he did not confess it until his final entry in his journal.
Widescreen 1.78:1. The picture is a touch hazy throughout all of the interviews, which would be excusable for the archived footage, but not what was created solely for this film.
Dolby Digital Stereo. It may be Stereo, but the sound is quite full-bodied. Those with any sort of bass boost or woofer will note right away the power of the film’s sound, despite it being a documentary and not some action film or musical.
This is a wonderfully curated Special Features section. Each portion has its own narrator and sometimes, composer, making them like a series of short films.
Deleted Scenes: These focus on Burroughs art, mostly created via shotgun. There is also a cut home movie of him discussion the concept of art.
Home Movies: Edited and featuring a lot of Patti Smith singing while playing an acoustic guitar, this is a sentimental vision of Burroughs being private yet very social.
Shotgun Art: A focused look at Burroughs almost Hunter S Thompson approach to visual art. Scored by Husker Du.
Sonic Youth Visit: A longer version of the Sonic Youth home movie shot on Super8, narrated by a member of the band.
Naked Lunch 50th Anniversary: A series of speakers, among them Peter Weller, talk about Burroughs at a gala event. A focus on the speakers and not the scenesters in attendance, thank goodness.
“Rub Out the World” Music Video: Burroughs reads The Last Words of Hassan Sabbah over a cheaply made, satirical film.
Patti Smith reads Psalm 23 Revisited: The title says it all, plain and simple.
Q&A with director Yony Leyser: During the BFI London Film Festival. Leyser is eager to answer and offers a decent insight into the film’s creation.
As the title suggests, this film looked to find the man within the highly regarded body of work. I consider this film to be a major success in being a suiting profile and an engrossing story.