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Burroughs: The Movie - Glasgow Film Festival

Thursday 12 March 2015, by Nisha Ramayya

Burroughs: The Movie, directed by Howard Brookner, is a compilation of film footage, photographs, and sound recordings collected in St Louis, New York, Colorado, and London during 1978-1983. Aaron Brookner, the director’s nephew, raised funds to restore and rerelease the documentary on the occasion of Burrough’s 100th birthday in 2014 (Howard Brookner died in 1989, Burroughs died in 1997). On the Kickstarter webpage, Aaron explains his motivations: ‘[Burroughs’] thoughts are still an inspiration which define counter-culture and fill us with un-paralleled insights into the world as it is today and it is important to preserve his wisdom for younger generations. William S. Burroughs was the real Pope of Beats and Punks. He predicted the electronic revolution, invented remixes (he called them cut-ups) before remixing even existed, and was a visionary captured beautifully in this film.’

Burroughs sits at a desk and reads extracts from Naked Lunch and Nova Express. ‘Get me a new scalpel, this one has no edge to it!’

Allen Ginsberg says: ‘Kerouac said that Burroughs was the most intelligent man in America and I probably repeated that a million times.’

Brion Gysin says: ‘He could punch a typewriter or he could punch a tape recorder to death.’

Do you know which line of yours Kerouac liked the best? Do you remember the characters we used to play? [A well-groomed Hungarian, an Edith Sitwell part, a Baroness.]

Burroughs likes to sing sentimental songs, he sings ‘Adios Muchachos’ very loudly.
Burroughs looks into the camera and says: ‘A buxom Irish maid, as I remember, said that she had heard that opium gives people pleasant, beautiful dreams.’

William Burroughs says that Joan Vollmer says: ‘You’re supposed to be a faggot but you’re as good as a pimp in bed.’

[‘I went back to Mexico City and saw Joan Burroughs leaning forwards in a garden chair, arms on her knees. She studied me with clear eyes and a downcast smile, her face restored to a fine beauty tequila and salt had made strange before the bullet in her brow.’]

Burroughs lives in Tangier. He sends his son copies of Rimbaud, shrunken heads, beautiful Amazonian butterflies in little glass cases, and things like that. [Billy is the last beatnik, he admires his father, he writes. Bill is ambivalent. How does Bill feel?]
He closes his eyes, smokes, adjusts his coat. He places his hands on a newspaper; a boy smiles. ‘Play it all, play it all, play it all back. Pay it all, pay it all, pay it all back.’

His writing is an autobiographical as anyone’s. [‘I wonder what ever happened to Otto’s boy who played the violin?’] [‘His name was Harold.’] [‘He’s been dead a long time.’]

Burroughs wears a snap brim fedora, grey gloves, a taupe suit, a red tie, glasses, surgical gloves, a head mirror. He washes a suction cup in a toilet bowl. He might have been the head of the CIA.

Burroughs’ mouth twitches in St Louis, where his fears no longer bother him.

Dir. Howard Brookner, 1983

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