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William S Burroughs Centennial

Today is the centennial of the infamous Beat era writer William S Burroughs and I've been thinking about him lately due to Philip Seymour Hoffman's death via heroin (why is it that I always start stringing the celebrity junkies together when they die? Is it because there are so damn tragic many of them?) but mostly because I was really gripped by Ben Foster's portrayal of him in Kill Your Darlings, a problematic movie about guys that weren't nearly as palatable in real life (despite the movie being about murder) that had a great moment here and there. Of course the movie wasn't really about Burroughs but about Lucien Carr's (Dane Dehaan) murder of his lover (Michael C Hall). From time to time I have wondered why we've had no straight up biopic about Burroughs (Keifer Sutherland is the only other actor I can think of that's played him), given that he's a very famous white guy genius and that's the kind of biopic Hollywood likes best. But I guess it couldn't be done; The MPAA and most moviegoers and possibly even myself would just never be able to deal what with the sex, the drugs, the finger-chopping, the wife-shooting, and what not.

So let's move over to actual movies. Burroughs appeared in a small role in Gus Van Sant's terrific Drugstore Cowboy (1989) which I highly recommend to any of you wondering why Matt Dillon was a "you owe him" Oscar nominee for Crash (2005) and then of course there was David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch (1991), a film version of Burrough's, ummmm, unfilmable novel. (Incidentally our friend Nick, who you know from Nick's Flick Picks and the podcast, writes extensively on this film in his first book "The Desiring Image") Whether or not any cinematic interpretation of Naked Lunch could be considered definitive if we didn't have it we would never have seen Julian Sands buggered by a towering insect monster or Judy Davis injecting bug powder into her breasts.

Have you seen Naked Lunch or read any of Burroughs work?

Burroughs with Cronenberg during the filming of Naked Lunch

Some Centennial Celebrations
Time Magazine "Rebel, Junkie, Exile, Genius"
NPR "Possessed by Genius"
The New Statesman "To say it country simple, most folks enjoy junk” - Burroughs in 1966 on kicking his heroin addiction 
Dreg Studios Brandt Hardin celebrates the history of Burroughs with a portrait 

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Reader Comments (6)

I own the Criterion DVD of Naked Lunch. It's essential Cronenberg and Judy Davis.

February 5, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

Burroughs founded a style and written world unmatched by any other voice in literary history. Warts, bodily fluids and all, he exposed the delights and discontents of sexuality, addiction and depravity. He found antiheroes in the dregs of society which he put on pillars to be fought over in court with groundbreaking obscenity cases. Men like that make it possible for you to read and see what other crazed souls like mine have to share with you. Inspired by his life, I illustrated a surreal portrait of the author today in commemoration of his Centennial at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2014/02/william-s-burroughs-centennial.html

February 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBrandt

The Burroughs documentary is pretty good. There is an air of hagiography but Burroughs seemed the most self-aware he had faults and had made screw-ups. I also liked how grouchy he was and so not in love with his iconography, which with the other beat generation people I noticed a little too much.

February 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

I've seen Naked Lunch. First and last date that was (it was my choice and I scared him away with it--just as well). Hot mess of a movie.

February 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

I thought Ben Foster's portrayal in Kill Your Darlings was the most lived-in and subtle, very good work from him.

"Go see the fucking parrots, Kiki." Ah Naked Lunch, so quotable, and so utterly and magnificently weird.

February 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAmes

That is a perfect mini-review of Kill Your Darlings there, Nathaniel! And I feel the same about Foster's performance - by far the most intriguing part of the film. I wanted more of him.

February 6, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

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