In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb wildlife

Wildlife

One never senses judgment from Dano, Kazan, Gyllenhaal, or Mulligan—they recognize that there’s beauty even in the mistakes we make in life. It’s what makes…

Thumb halloween poster

Halloween

Do you know the biggest sin of the new Halloween? It’s just not scary. And that’s one thing you could never say about the original.

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives

Reviews

Burroughs

Burroughs Movie Review
  |  

This is the man who wrote some of the most scandalous books of his time, although today the same taboos are broken on “Dynasty” and “Dallas.” His books included Naked Lunch, The Ticket that Exploded, Junkie and Exterminator. He was the godfather of the beatniks, he inspired Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, and today whenever he gives a reading on a college campus or in a punk bar, the place is jammed with kids who cheer him as a survivor and a rebel.

“Burroughs,” opening today at Facets, is a documentary of the writer’s recent years. He walks through it in a series of business suits and neat fedora hats, and he is dispassionate for the most part. He has much to be dispassionate about. Born in St. Louis, educated at Harvard, briefly a medical student in Vienna, discharged from the U.S. Army, he spent the late 1940s as an exile in Tangiers, smoking hashish, shooting heroin, sniffing cocaine and “having a good time… although little did I know.”

Advertisement

Back in New York at Columbia University, he was introduced to his wife, Joan, by friends. “We thought,” says Allen Ginsberg in the film, “that they were equally talented, equally intelligent – a perfect match.” William and Joan found themselves in Mexico City a few years later where, Burroughs recounts, she grew depressed over his affairs with local boys and began to drink a bottle of tequila a day. One night during a drunken party, Burroughs suggested “our William Tell act” to his wife. She balanced a glass on her head, and his aim was good enough to hit her square in the forehead.

“It was just insanity,” he says dispassionately. The death was declared an accident, and Ginsberg helpfully notes that the incident seemed to trigger Burroughs’ writing: “That’s when he started to get the juices flowing.” So much for Joan. Burroughs went on to write in London and Paris. Many of his books first appeared in the notorious green-jacketed Olympia Press series from Paris, but eventually they could be sold openly in America, and as the beatniks became the hippies, Burroughs became some kind of counterculture saint.

Did that please him? The question is never asked. The most painful passages in the film deal with his son, Willie Jr., an alcoholic and speed freak – “the last of the beatniks” – who wrote a couple of books and then committed suicide during the filming. Father and son are awkward together; although they are both anti-establishment rebels, it gives them nothing in common.

“Burroughs” is a documentary portrait of a man who was willing to try everything, and who has so far survived everything. The one thing you miss in the film is the sound of laughter.

Advertisement

Popular Blog Posts

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

Netflix’s Terrifying, Moving The Haunting of Hill House is Essential Viewing

A review of Mike Flanagan's new horror series based on the Shirley Jackson novel, The Haunting of Hill House.

"It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" Gets the Deluxe Treatment from Criterion

An epic essay on an epic comedy of the 1960s, now given deluxe treatment on Blu-ray and DVD by Criterion.

Danson's Racist 'Humor' Appalls Crowd at Roast

NEW YORK It's a tradition of the celebrity roasts at the Friar's Club that everything goes - that no joke is in such ...

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus