Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker
Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting
William Burroughs met filmmaker Antony Balch in 1962 at the Beat Hotel. Balch made the very Grade-B movies that Burroughs felt create a space between, which provided a modicum of Lebensraum in a Puritan society. Today, Balch is best known for his film collaborations with Burroughs, like Towers Open Fire or William Buys a Parrot.
RealityStudio has been able to acquire roughly one hundred letters from Burroughs, Brion Gysin, and Ian Sommerville to Balch from the 1960s to the 1980s. The attached letters are a small sample of letters of interest from Burroughs in the 1960s. We have also included an index of the archive to give some sense of the importance of the collection.
It is unfortunate that RealityStudio received the letters after publishing Dave Teuween’s article on Burroughs’ “Abstracts” because a few of the letters below provide much-needed detail on Burroughs’ theories regarding film. Please read or re-read his essay in conjunction with these letters. Of particular interest is a 1968 letter written just after the Democratic Convention in Chicago in which Burroughs reveals his political side and his belief in the decade’s cultural revolution. Included in the letter is a reference to pornography, which sheds light on The Wild Boys material of the period. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, hardcore pornography, gay or straight, was considered a part of the cultural avant-garde. Antony Balch made his living distributing European soft-core movies and even Grove Press considered entering the experimental film market with a movie division. Burroughs’ idea of making avant-garde porn films was not that far-fetched. Warhol films such as Blow Job, Flesh, and My Hustler are cases in point. Midnight Cowboy, an X-rated film, won the Oscar for Best Picture. In the early 1970s, Deep Throat began the process of making porn mainstream. Porn has emerged from the 8mm stag party and infiltrated everyday life. Elements of porn are everywhere. The experimental films of Andy Warhol, Stan Brakhage and even Burroughs and Balch helped make that happen. Clearly Burroughs believed his films had the capacity to change the world and they have.
This is just one example of the value of these letters. The thought of what lies in the New York Public Library archives staggers the mind. The coming decade promises a complete revolution in the understanding of Burroughs provided the material is made available. RealityStudio is proud to provide scholars and the curious all the ammunition they might need.