“Naked Lunch” (1991)

September 6, 2011 at 1:26 pm (Cinema, Reviews & Articles, The Beats, William S. Burroughs)

Taken from The New York Times, Dec. 27, 1991 and written by Janet Maslin…

Drifting In and Out of a Kafkaesque Reality

Naked Lunch, adapted by the dauntless David Cronenberg from William S. Burroughs’ 1959 landmark novel, represents a remarkable meeting of the minds. It’s hard to imagine another filmmaker who could delve so deeply into the monstrousness of Mr. Burroughs’ vision, in the end coming up with a bona fide monster movie of his own. Yet while Mr. Cronenberg’s ingenious approach to his material matches Mr. Burroughs’ flair for the grotesque, it also shares the author’s perfect nonchalance and his ice-cold wit. Seldom has a filmmaker offered his audience a more debonair invitation to go to hell.

The director of The Fly, Dead Ringers and Scanners will not disappoint viewers who appreciate his devilish ingenuity. Instead of attempting the impossible task of adapting Naked Lunch literally, Mr. Cronenberg has treated the disjointed, hallucinatory book as a secondary source. Concentrating instead on Mr. Burroughs himself, the drug experience that colors his writing and the agonies of the creative process, Mr. Cronenberg also devises purely metaphorical versions of the author’s wild and violent sexual scenarios. The result, by turns bracing, brilliant, and vile, is a screen style as audacious as Mr. Burroughs’ is on the page. Read the rest of this entry »

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William S. Burroughs – “Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, 1986)

November 25, 2010 at 1:01 am (Poetry & Literature, The Beats, William S. Burroughs)

For John Dillinger
In hope he is still alive

Thanks for the wild turkey and the Passenger Pigeons, destined to be shit out through wholesome American guts –

thanks for a Continent to despoil and poison –

thanks for Indians to provide a modicum of challenge and danger –

thanks for vast herds of bison to kill and skin, leaving the carcass to rot –

thanks for bounties on wolves and coyotes –

thanks for the AMERICAN DREAM to vulgarize and falsify until the bare lies shine through –

thanks for the KKK, for nigger-killing lawmen feeling their notches, for decent church-going women with their mean, pinched, bitter, evil faces –

thanks for “Kill a Queer for Christ” stickers –

thanks for laboratory AIDS –

thanks for Prohibition and the War Against Drugs –

thanks for a country where nobody is allowed to mind his own business –

thanks for a nation of finks — yes,

thanks for all the memories… all right, let’s see your arms… you always were a headache and you always were a bore –

thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.

William S. Burroughs

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William S. Burroughs – “Tangier Cut-Up (1964)

August 2, 2010 at 1:41 am (Poetry & Literature, Reviews & Articles, The Beats, William S. Burroughs)

The September 1964 issue of Esquire features a photo-essay titled “Tangier.” Alongside pictures by photographer Robert Freson, William Burroughs provided captions and the following text.
I post this in remembrance of WSB, who died 13 years ago today…

In these foreign suburbs here, a map of Tangier on a flaking plaster wall. I look from a photo layout to the map and drive pins in the map pointing location of the photos. The wall is grey and metallic under the plaster; electricity leaking into the walls the way it does in these old houses, you can get a shock from these pins. Look at the map. It won’t be there long. Read the rest of this entry »

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William S. Burroughs – “Last Words: 7/30/97″ (1997)

July 30, 2010 at 12:59 pm (Poetry & Literature, The Beats, William S. Burroughs)

The last words Burroughs ever wrote — from his private journal, 3 days before he passed away…

“There is no final enough of wisdom, experience- any fucking thing. No Holy Grail, No Final Satori, no solution. Just conflict.

Only thing that can resolve conflict is love, like I felt for Fletch and Ruski, Spooner, and Calico. Pure love. What I feel for my cats past and present.

Love? What is it?
Most natural painkiller what there is.
LOVE.”

William S. Burroughs

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William S. Burroughs – Interview (Part 4)

July 24, 2010 at 11:23 am (The Beats, William S. Burroughs)

The final part of this 1990s interview with WSB, by Kathy Acker. Very fascinating stuff…

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William S. Burroughs – Interview (Part 3)

July 24, 2010 at 11:14 am (The Beats, William S. Burroughs)

Part 3 of this 1990s interview with poet, novelist and playwright Kathy Acker… Burroughs discusses the writing of many of his books, and his brief involvement with Scientology and est. Very fascinating.

Note: Around the 6:30 mark the video stops. I’m not sure if I’m the only one that this has happened to…?

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William S. Burroughs – Interview (Part 2)

July 24, 2010 at 11:00 am (The Beats, William S. Burroughs)

Part 2 of this interview of WSB, not longer before his death in 1997. Burroughs always had a very distinctive voice, literally and figuratively…

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William S. Burroughs – Interview (Part 1)

July 24, 2010 at 10:48 am (The Beats, William S. Burroughs)

This is a fairly rare interview with William Burroughs by Kathy Acker, a great punk/postmodern/experimental writer, originally released on video(?) by the Institute of Contemporary Art in London although it is no longer listed in their catalog. This particular copy comes from Dutch television.

The interview was filmed at the October Gallery in London, some time before the deaths of both participants in 1997.

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William S. Burroughs – “Hassan Sabbah”

July 24, 2010 at 10:40 am (The Beats, William S. Burroughs)

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“Naked Lunch” (1991)

November 27, 2009 at 10:26 am (Cinema, Reviews & Articles, The Beats, William S. Burroughs)

Janet Maslin article from The New York Times, Dec. 27, 1991 about the David Cronenberg adaptation of William S. Burroughs’ famous novel. It wasn’t a literal adaptation of the book, as it only used parts of it. I saw this movie at the time and it was definitely strange…


Drifting In and Out of a Kafkaesque Reality

Naked Lunch, adapted by the dauntless David Cronenberg from William S. Burroughs’ 1959 landmark novel, represents a remarkable meeting of the minds. It’s hard to imagine another filmmaker who could delve so deeply into the monstrousness of Mr. Burroughs’ vision, in the end coming up with a bona fide monster movie of his own. Yet while Mr. Cronenberg’s ingenious approach to his material matches Mr. Burroughs’ flair for the grotesque, it also shares the author’s perfect nonchalance and his ice-cold wit. Seldom has a filmmaker offered his audience a more debonair invitation to go to hell.

The director of The Fly, Dead Ringers and Scanners will not disappoint viewers who appreciate his devilish ingenuity. Instead of attempting the impossible task of adapting Naked Lunch literally, Mr. Cronenberg has treated the disjointed, hallucinatory book as a secondary source. Concentrating instead on Mr. Burroughs himself, the drug experience that colors his writing and the agonies of the creative process, Mr. Cronenberg also devises purely metaphorical versions of the author’s wild and violent sexual scenarios. The result, by turns bracing, brilliant, and vile, is a screen style as audacious as Mr. Burroughs’ is on the page.

Naked Lunch makes an instantaneous break with conventional reality in its opening moments and never looks back. Centering on the adventures of Bill Lee, played by Peter Weller as a droll, deadpan evocation of the author (Lee was the maiden name of Mr. Burroughs’ mother, and William Lee his pseudonym), the film begins with smallish bugs. Then it moves on to ever more huge, horrible, and intelligent ones. Bill works in New York City as an exterminator and sees even that as a metaphor. “Exterminate all rational thought: that is the conclusion I have come to,” he says.

In addition to viewing his job in philosophical terms, Bill has also used it as an excuse to ingest narcotic bug powder, to which both he and his wife, Joan (Judy Davis), have become addicted. Ms. Davis, who is wonderfully dry and unflappable in two different bizarre incarnations, at first turns up barely long enough to inject bug powder intravenously and conduct a lazy affair with one of Bill’s friends. “Hank and I, we’re just bored,” she tells Bill. “It wasn’t serious.”

This is enough to raise Bill’s suspicions that Joan is a secret agent for an enemy spy ring, especially after a large talking beetle befriends Bill and drops that hint. Joan must be eliminated, the beetle insists, speaking from an orifice that recalls Mr. Burroughs taste for the playfully obscene and talking in the lively, Burroughs-like idiom of Mr. Cronenberg’s inventive screenplay. “It must be done this week,” the insect says, “and it must be done real tasty.”

So Bill and Joan perform their “William Tell act,” just as Mr. Burroughs and his wife, Joan Vollmer Burroughs, did on one drunken evening in Mexico City in 1951. As Bill shoots and kills Joan, the film makes one of its many allusions to the real events of Mr. Burroughs’ life. Soon afterward, he either physically or psychically flees New York for Interzone, a Tangier-like exotic setting in which the film’s nightmarishness escalates to new levels (although Naked Lunch is so thoroughly hallucinatory that it’s difficult to know exactly where its characters are, literally or figuratively). In Interzone, the suffering gets worse and the bugs get bigger as Bill attempts to write what will be Naked Lunch, the novel.

Onscreen Naked Lunch recalls both The Sheltering Sky and Barton Fink in its respective evocations of the life of the literary exile and the torment of trying to write. Mr. Cronenberg’s hideously clever contribution in the latter realm is the insect-cum-typewriter that supposedly assists Bill in his efforts but clearly has a mind of its own. Both the writing bug and the Mugwump, a man-sized and rather soigné strain of monster, are capable of registering their approval by oozing viscous, intoxicating substances from various parts of their anatomies. “I’d like you to meet a friend of mine,” Bill is told upon encountering his first cigarette-smoking Mugwump on a bar stool in Interzone. “He specializes in sexual ambivalence.”

These elements, plus a lot of attention to the addictive powers of the black meat of the giant Brazilian centipede, insure that Mr. Cronenberg’s version of Naked Lunch is no more suitable to the fainthearted than Mr. Burroughs’ was. And the film, while very different from the book, is every bit as impenetrable in its own way. By the time it reaches a repellent fever pitch, with one character literally tearing its body open to reveal someone of a different sex inside (a simple yet extravagantly weird evocation of the author’s thoughts on sexual identity), Naked Lunch has become too stomach-turning and gone too far over the top to regain its initial aplomb. Yet for the most part this is a coolly riveting film and even a darkly entertaining one, at least for audiences with steel nerves, a predisposition toward Mr. Burroughs, and a willingness to meet Mr. Cronenberg halfway.

The gaunt, unsmiling Mr. Weller looks exactly right and brings a perfect offhandedness to his disarming dialogue. (“You’re patronizing me, boys, but I don’t mind ’cause you’re so sweet to me too,” he tells the film’s Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg stand-ins.) And Ms. Davis is chillingly good as both Joan Lee and Joan Frost, a writer Bill meets with her husband in Interzone; between this and her work as the helpmate of the William Faulkner character in Barton Fink, Ms. Davis surely qualifies as the tortured writer’s Muse of the Year. Also roaming through Naked Lunch are Roy Scheider as the demented Dr. Benway, an odd fixture of the pharmacological strain in Mr. Burroughs’ writing; Ian Holm as a fellow writer with a grasp of the typewriter-bug’s habits, and Julian Sands as a debauched Interzone playboy.

“Stay until you finish the book, but then come back to us,” Bill’s friends say about his sojourn in Interzone. But if the terror so slyly and sickeningly rendered in Naked Lunch is representative, it’s a miracle that artists ever survive the creative process to come home.

Janet Maslin

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