William S Burroughs: A Man Within

Documentary Directed by Yony Leyser, 2010

Review by Graham Rae

“He was the first person who was famous for things you were supposed to hide — he was gay, he was a junkie, he didn’t look handsome, he shot his wife, he wrote poetry about assholes and heroin. He was not easy to like.” — John Waters, the Pope of Trash, on WSB, the Pope of Dope.

When the new-clear-eyed-art nuclear bomb that was Naked Lunch exploded in 1959, killing literary traditions and old modes of expression, its radioactive fallout continued until William S Burroughs’ death in 1997. By that point the man’s rap-sheet rep had been long established: homosexual rights pioneer, junkie, wife-killer, teenage boy lover, terrible father, gun lover, avant-garde iconoclast icon, advanced and muddled scientific-cum-magical thinker, experimental jack-of-several-artistic-trades, etc etc. His image has been set in opaque opiate sleaze-stone for decades now, but there’s only one thing wrong with it: it’s not really the truth at all. Or, more specifically, the image forms only one part of the truth. It’s fixated on the man fixing up and mixing up literary tradition, distracted by his away-with-words way with words. But lying behind all the bluff and bluster and marijuana smoke and shattered internal mirrors lay a real living feeling human being, a man trapped within his mythical counter-cultural-tornado image and far removed from its worst excesses and exaggerations and lies.

Patti Smith and William S. Burroughs, Photograph by Allen GinsbergEnough time has obviously elapsed for younger artists away from ever-receding WSB Epicenter Central to be able to examine El Hombre Invisible as a suddenly visible capital H (for) Human (not Heroin) entity, to hesitantly-but-ever-more-forcefully begin to restore a humanity to the tragic-life writer he often lacked when he was alive — much of the time through his own obscuring-smokescreen doing. This process began on film with the recent excellent short The Japanese Sandman by Ed Buhr. That production presented a fake “letter” from The Yage Letters in sensitive, revealing style to examine the often overlooked maudlin, sentimental, melancholic aspect of Burroughs’ writing. And those aspects are there, they truly are, albeit buried under strata of sex and drugs and madness. Judging by the tragic painful horrible life the man lived, why wouldn’t they be? The outstanding new documentary William S Burroughs: A Man Within by 25-year-old director Yony Leyser continues this excavation and examination of William S Burroughs’ behind-the-mask humanity in spectacular educational and inspirational form. If you ever thought there was no more mileage to be gained from WSB and expository films about him, think again. I personally had wondered for years when somebody was finally going to go beyond the crazy-smackhead-god bullshit and talk about Burroughs as a human being first and foremost, and finally somebody has done it.

A Man Within starts off in knowing wry sardonic mode, with Burroughs’ otherwordly voice reading from Naked Lunch inviting us carny-huckster-style inside the running time to witness The Complete All-American Deanxietized Man. Of course, given the author under discussion, we see nothing of the sort. Putting it mildly. What we do see is a fairly comprehensive encapsulating of WSB’s private life and loves and hates and fears and art. Newcomers to the anti-writer writer’s artistic oeuvre will find this an excellent introductory springboard to jump off into his multiple-media creations, and seasoned afficionados of his work will find plenty of thought-provoking new material to fill gaps in their own understanding and view of him and his methadone-methodology wordwork. All the major life-tropes and threads are present and (occasionally deeply unpleasantly) correct here: his privileged upbringing, rebellion against 1950s middle class mores, the Beats, his horrific killing of his wife, the tragic death of his son, lifelong drug addiction, literary experiments, etc. 

Peter Weller, who essayed WSB surrogate William Lee in David Cronenberg’s 1991 film of Naked Lunch, sporadically narrates (and stars in, replete with huge Freudian cigar) a laser-precision trip over the 83 years of the writer’s existence. Interspersed with superb wire-sculpture stop-motion animations we are treated to a counter-cultural rogue’s gallery of the usual unusual suspects to contribute bone-fleshing-out anecdotes and musings on the Midwestern junkie’s life and their shooting-under-the-skinteractions with him. David Cronenberg talks about working with the writer. Jello Biafra gives examples from his exemplary Dead Kennedys work of how he was lyrically influenced by the cut-up method, as does a hilariously madly ranting Iggy Pop, who is probably wearing a Stooges t-shirt to remind him of who his old band were back in days of more-braincells yore. Biographer Victor Bockris madly flaps his arms like Hunter S Thompson fighting off invisible bats and pontificates on homophobia in the 1950s and Burroughs’ impact on same. V Vale talks of WSB and his Harvard education and Shakespeare. And on and on. What is clear by the caliber of the musicians, filmmakers, writers, etc, interviewed, is that Burroughs influenced a great many people in a great many artistic disciplines — and of course continues to do so. What’s even more interesting to note, and this is very clearly drawn in the film, is just how cross-generational El Hombre Invisible’s work was and is — from the Beats to the hippies to the punks to grunge to the young artists now picking up and dusting off his artistic mantle. Anybody in the last half century with a bone to grind or an axe to pick seems to have gravitated towards the inescapable black hole of his iconoclastic rebellion almost automatically whether they initially know it or not, his influence has been so widespread and long-lasting and unassailable.

Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, Photograph by Hank O'Neal“And I think that that disappointment that he had when he did fall in love, which was so rare for him, made him a lot more withdrawn sexually and emotionally, a lot more afraid of being vulnerable and then being hurt” — Genesis P-Orridge, a wo/man who knows a thing or two about being hurt in love, on William S Burroughs.

Quite apart from anything else, I think what makes this documentary such an sterling piece of work is the deep and seemingly almost effortless insight it gives us into the love(less) life of the writer it examines. I had always been personally fascinated and confused by William S Burroughs as a (maybe un)feeling human being first and foremost, wondering what sort of person and personality hid behind such a formidable volatile and inviolable manufactured-persona wall. This film answers that question, at least for me: a truly lonely and damaged and confused individual barely capable of sustaining a loving relationship with another human being any age or sex, from wife to lovers to son. 

A deeply shy and tragically schizoid man within the myth is sketched by expertly chosen clips of Burroughs speaking. I found one clip above all others to be highly illuminating. It shows the paranoid writer talking to a woman in what seems to be a public Q&A.

As you’re letting yourself open to experience, and that’s the only way you can experience it… but there’s also a danger of letting yourself open to something that is very injurious. When you let your immunity down there, and you can get AIDS, that’s always been a problem of being receptive, but at the same time able to defend yourself against injurious attacks and influences. Because they are sure to be there. It’s like a disease organism.

Whether spoken during the heights of the AIDS era or not, you’d have to say that these are injured, frightened, cautious, depressing words. Burroughs, of course, came from a time when homosexuality was not above ground (JG Ballard said that he found the gay Midwesterner “impenetrable” when he met him, which you can take however you like), and no doubt some of his paranoid utterances and views came from rampant homophobia in the first half or so of the century. 

James Grauerholz and William S. Burroughs, Photograph by Udo BregerBut even this is not enough to explain interpersonal relationships as being compared to a “disease organism” (which, oddly, is very similar to the way WSB described words in general; when you are an artist who regards love and art as being pathogenic invasions, you know you’re in trouble) and to fully explicate why the junkie scribe would often employ rent boys to satiate his sexual desires. The sympathetic, insightful, melancholic P-Orridge notes that Burroughs did this so that, emotionally, there was “no danger of being embroiled beyond a controllable point.” No doubt some of the motivation behind WSB employing buff rough trade was that they reminded him to a degree of his early young failed attempts at same-sex relationships, with the likes of Prynne Lee Hoxie (whom Burroughs literary estate executor James Grauerholz, also insightfully interviewed in this film, has convincingly proved was the basis for the Billy Bradshinkel character from the aforementioned Japanese Sandman short — Hoxie died in a drunken car wreck in 1934) and Lewis Marker, both touched upon in the film. The tortured writer truly was a man fated to walk along alone in life, albeit with sustaining artistic and companionship-based relationships from significant others like Grauerholz and painter Brion Gysin. It’s actually tragic, and you wonder how much of Burroughs’ wish to stay wasted for most of his life came from a way to escape the internal eternal emotional conflagration he was suffering. But there’ll never truly be any empirical way of proving or knowing that.

There is a helluva lot more to A Man Within than (not particularly) simple discussion of Burroughs’ barren emotional life: we have a discussion of his love of guns (his gun dealer wryly notes that the ballistics junkie got a feedback high out of weapons “better than shooting heroin — you shot something else and it went bang!”), his artistic methodology, his snake obsession, his drug use and abuse, ad infinitum. I will leave the would-be viewer here to discover all the other material in the running time for themselves, because if you’re at all interested in William Seward Burroughs and his life and work (young friend of mine who knew nothing about the man found it enlightening and entertaining) you will simply have to see this labor of love (the director Yony Leyser shot it for peanuts over a period of several years, and the care and attention paid to, and obsession with, the subject matter shows and is infectious) when it gets a well-deserved release later this year. I’ve personally seen it several times so far, and will definitely be going back to it again for further repeat viewings. It’s much better than the other WSB-life-and-career-encompassing 1983 documentary Burroughs: The Movie (though it could use the hilarious annoyance and embarrassment on the writer’s face in that production when his brother Mortimer castigates him for the language used in Naked Lunch) because it’s further from the subject matter and thus can be more revealing and honest and not skimpily skim over any of the unpleasant aspects of its subject’s biography. The life and mind of William S Burroughs is a terrible and sometimes beautiful and inspiring thing to cinematically taste, and if it’s a wasted-writer flavor like that you want and need you’ll do no better than this fine new in-depth documentary.



Written by Graham Rae and published by RealityStudio on 23 April 2010. Photographs in this review all taken from Yony Leyser’s film William S. Burroughs: A Man Within. Photograph of Patti Smith and Burroughs by Allen Ginsberg. Photograph of Ginsberg and Burroughs by Hank O’Neal. Photograph of James Grauerholz and Burroughs by Udo Breger.
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Comments Total: 43
Frank
Apr 23 2010
4:49 pm

how was WSB trapped in his ownimage and how does the ‘writer’s wasted life’ term apply to him?

johnny strike
Apr 23 2010
6:50 pm

news flash!
william burroughs was actually a human being!

seriously graham, i hope your review draws in some new viewers, and readers to the work of wsb.

yony had a vision and he saw it through.
my hat is off to him!

Graham Rae
Apr 23 2010
7:43 pm

I did not mean that WSB wasted his life or was wasted as a writer…I literally meant that he was WASTED in his life, wasted on DRUGS. It says ‘wasted-writer’ in the review which says it all to me; the two words are interconnected. And how can somebody not be trapped in an image that only shows a cartoony twodee part of them whilst ignoring the rest of the human tragic stuff that doesn’t fit? But that’s just my perception.

And yes Johnny, WSB was a human being, though you wouldn’t know it to hear the way some people go on about him. This doc should help rectify that, hopefully.

johnny strike
Apr 23 2010
8:09 pm

he’s certainly held in high regard, or disregard as the case maybe.

if you mean he’s in trouble of approaching sainthood, well, there’s always some screwballs around.

Graham Rae
Apr 23 2010
9:33 pm

Funny, but in the doc John Waters talks right at the end about WSB as being like a “religious figure” to some disaffected people (and he was nicknamed the ‘Pope of Trash’ by WSB). So you know…

yony
Apr 23 2010
9:38 pm

Hey Johnny Strike,

Good to see you on here. Come to my screening in San Francisco on June 20th and 22nd at Frameline film festival, and come say hi.

Mr Lightfoot
Apr 24 2010
1:37 am

I aspecially enjoyed your use of language here Graham. I’ve read a few things you have written now about literature over the past two or three years and would quite like to read you turning your tasty writing style towards some other subject; perhaps a political convention? Or even just a trip to the mall… I don’t know. I’m imagining you as the unique Scottish poetic gonzo guy in America or something…

Yony; please make sure you let Reality Studio know about any upcoming screening in London. In fact could we not give this film’s screenings a little bit of space on the home page, Mr Reality Studio? Also Yony, please add me to your email list and I’ll help spread the word if you let me know about any UK London screenings you may manage to arrange if you let me know in good time…

Graham Rae
Apr 24 2010
7:06 am

(Sorry to rudely momentarily intrude on the A Man Within debate)

Posted some stuff for you on the forum, Mr.Lightfoot. Thanks.

johnny strike
Apr 24 2010
7:22 am

hi yony,

thanks for the heads up. i will definitely be there.

yony
Apr 24 2010
11:37 am

Dear Mr. Lightfoot,

The film will be playing in London in October at BFI’s film festival. Send me an email to the address on the site and I will try to remind you.

Joe
Apr 27 2010
12:56 am

It’s definitely interesting to have a different approach to WSB. What calls my attention though is that Mr. Rae and Professor Oliver Harris, who are both British,are the most interested in promoting the melanchoholic aspect of WSB’s work, at least as I can see it in this site and the latter’s papers and book’s introductions. Sure, Yony is an American and a very young one who apparently has made a pretty good doc which, however, also depicts two dimensional characters. Talking about suffering, the troubled life of William S. Burroughs and his being the “pope” of trash for “disaffected people”, at least for me, is not less likely to be hyped than all the talk about drugs. It’s just like Kafka whose work shows certain “horrific” aspects of human condition yet, as it has often being said, he had lots of fun while he read it to his pals. But hen again, it is the undeniable ability WSB had to make fun of his or other’s disgrace what makes ME feel a little bit exceptic about these approaches that are often marketed, even at a low price, as “the real man”. Just as I can’t imagine Burroughs having fun all the time he was on dope, I cannot see him suffering all of his life, I mean, that would be inhuaman either. Whatever reality is, it is something quite complex that cannot be reduced to laughs or tears (the dead-end of either/or propostions)

Coming back to Jed B’s last article and his mentioning of Deleuze, I remember a book where he writes beautifully about affection as a central function of the arts. So from this perspective, I agree with John Waters words, for if it is true that WSB became a sort of “pope” for many disaffected people who didn’t meet him personally, it is because his work functions, like in any other writer’s case, in terms of affection, if I may use the expression.

Yeah, the man experienced life and creation as an invation and he constantly said and suggested that the only way to escape such an invation is by yielding to control. In this sense, I can understand that as westerners we can’t but get WSB life as tragic. He himself probably had that feeling about it too. In any case, one can always compare how what we term as tragic didn’t work in the same way in non-western cultures.I mean, not that in the east or any other specific location on earth the concept of fatality or the likes do not exit. It’s just hat they have another function.

I’ve got nothing against this almost new approach, of course. But when it comes to literature and the arts, we won’t always be able to have with us those that were close friends of a writer to tell us what’s the “truth” behind the image, which fortunately has never been an obstacle-not even in the case of writers whose work is highly autobiographical-to read, enjoy and learn from literature. It is then when artists actually yield to control and their work is tested by time.

Congrats to Yony for this different,though thankfully not definitive, approach to Burroughs.

PS
Sorry if I wrote more than once but the message that my comment was waiting for moderation didn’t appear so I’m using the email account I used to comment before.

Mr Lightfoot
Apr 27 2010
4:05 am

Mr Rae, I just rummaged through the forum in search of your aforementioned writing and could find nothing… Would you mind perhaps posting a link?
Yony; I’ll put the BFI screening in my diary and shall look forward to it; my email is lightland@gmail.com

Graham Rae
Apr 27 2010
4:46 pm

Interesting comment about the UK-vs-US perceptions of WSB, the themes and threads teased out of his work. Maybe the UK weather is to blame for the love of melancholia! But I by no means think this doc is definitive; it’s just another way of examing the writer, and helping present a more rounded picture of his life and work than that already presented. Have you seen the doc, Joe, as a matter of interest? There’s much more to it than just presenting a disgruntled disaffected genius; theer’s some hilarious footage of him waving a shotgun around ranting that he wanted to shoot something, amongst other things! And of course WSB could find laughter in everything; Naked Lunch is an incredibly funny book.

Joe
Apr 28 2010
3:19 am

Even more interesting, I would say (or am I actually saying it?) is Mr. Rae’s interpretation of the “comment about UKvsUS perceptions on WSB”. Shall I infer that he means my comment? No, there must be a mistake. But if I’m right, which I frankly doubt, Mr. Rae’s comment is indeed interesting because I remarked that Yony IS an American who is also interested, like Professor Harris and Mr. Rae himself (who are British so the weather, I guess, has nothing to do) in exploring Burroughs troubled life. So I don’t really understand why he puts it in terms of UKvsUS. He can certainly do it without my giving him permission (interpretation is an essential part of the act of reading)

No, “I haven’t seen” the doc, though I agree that the scene where Burroughs holds a shotgun is hilarious. Mind you, the idea that “human nature”, whatever that means, is tragic per sé, is hilarious in itself.

Did I say or suggest that the doc was definitive or did I just say that”thankfully it was not definitive? That’s another interesting interpretation by Mr. Rae which I’m sure he can sustain becauase “nothing is true, everything is permitted”

Davee Mac
Apr 28 2010
5:33 am

now i *really* want to see this film

johnny strike
Apr 28 2010
9:53 am

i see the discussion is still chugging along. i’m still thinking about frank’s comment and graham’s answer. in class (creative reading) with burroughs someone asked him about being strung out, and he commented something along the lines of: well look, there were long periods of not being on junk or i would’ve never written all those books. and the second comment about image. i’d say there are a number of images portrayed about the man besides the “cartoony” one.

side note: i believe patti smith referred to him as the black pope (anton lavey was also called that) and breton was called the pope of surrealism. not all popes are saints however.

Graham Rae
Apr 28 2010
12:16 pm

When most people think of WSB they think: author of Naked Lunch, junkie, homosexual, wife killer, Beat Poet. That’s the general public’s perception, if they even know who he is or anything about him. This movie simply expands upon that image a lot further and adds a lot of human flesh and bones to the humanity-and-reality-starved smackhead skeleton.

Joe
Apr 28 2010
5:14 pm

I remember that once upon a time I was writing an essay on the representation of the colonized body as a user interface in Naked Lunch. Later on I changed the topic because someone asked me to do it, otherwise, I wouldn’t be published in a collection of essays on Burroughs. I “chose” another subject but in the end I quit because the editor made some changes in my essay so that it became a criticism of homosexuality. “But I digress, as usual”. It’s just that the aforementioned editor was pretty enthusiastic about the way in which I criticized people who only thought Burroughs was only a junky, homosexual etc, and thought giving Burrough’s work a material basis would make him more real and human.

Ports of entry, nodes or machinical filums, to use Burroughsian and Deleuzian concepts, are terms I would have used to talk about all the iconic phrases the general public use to refer to William S. Burroughs.

“I know his name was Guy Fawkes and I know, in 1605, he attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament. But who was he really? What was he like? We are told to remember the idea, not the man, because a man can fail. He can be caught, he can be killed and forgotten, but 400 years later, an idea can still change the world.”

Evey Hammond in V for Vendetta

“But I digress, as usual”

“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust”

Onlooker
Apr 29 2010
12:16 am

Interesting debate, but could we please keep it about William Seward Burroughs and this great-sounding new documentary, and NOT air any personal prejudices or grievances here? Thanks.

Joe
Apr 29 2010
7:39 am

Promised. I won’t air any personal prejudices of editors. About why someone reads UKvsUS where I remarked that melancholia has nothing to do with nationality, about the grievances and certain prejudices against homosexuality which are later used as a ground for scholarly work, that’s something I cannot speak on behalf of anybody.

Robert
Apr 29 2010
12:54 pm

I had stumbled upon the teaser on YouTube prior to seeing it here within Graham’s piece. Watching again and reading here impress me favorably. Looks as though Leyser’s work will likely be a filmic achievement on the order of Ted Morgan’s scholarly and biographical portrait in “Literary Outlaw.”

Frank
Apr 30 2010
2:50 pm

After years of admiration for John Waters and his art, I thought that he lost the thread of things when he rallied for the release of Manson family murderer Leslie Van Houten. His ‘she had the guts to do what we just made movies about’, paraphasing, and the hurt look on his face when an interviewer called her ‘Van Hooten’ seems to show that he’s taken things a bit too far in his own world, and his work has suffered accordingly. So, as much as I love reading people’s thoughts on WSB, his I can do without. Just a thought.

Graham Rae
Apr 30 2010
3:00 pm

Don’t know anything about that. I just quoted him because it neatly encapsulates part of the theme of the doc. Waters has always been a bit…left-of-reality-center.

Frank
May 1 2010
8:47 am

I was saying that because I saw Waters in the promo trailer and not because of what you wrote, which I found to be a new take on things and very enjoyable. Look at the thread that you caused. Pretty cool.

Possibly Waters is a victim of his own image, like Burroughs said of Hemingway? It’s a long way from Devine and Edie the Egg Lady to Leslie Van ‘Hooten’.

johnny strike
May 1 2010
6:38 pm

‘I am guilty, too. Guilty of using the Manson murders in a jokey, smart-ass way in my earlier films without the slightest feeling for the victims’ families or the lives of the brainwashed Manson killer kids who were also victims in this sad and terrible case.’
-john waters

from a friendship part 1 of 5.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-waters/leslie-van-houten-a-frien_b_246953.html

Graham Rae
May 1 2010
9:16 pm

I actually looked up that exact same Huffington Post article yesterday to understand what Frank (thanks for the compliments) said above, and have to say I thought Waters came across as a weird, immature, divorced-from-event-reality dickhead in it, saying how Van Houten reminded him of one of his movie girls and whatnot. But he’s always been a criminal-starfucker cos he’s a rich boy from an uncomfortable-being-comfortable background. Guess he could maybe relate to WSB in that respect, and in the gay rebellious aspect of things.

johnny strike
May 1 2010
10:33 pm

it’s not his best writing. a far cry from the excellent SHOCK VALUE.

johnny strike
May 2 2010
3:51 pm

but, hey, that turns out to be only one chapter from his new book, so i’ll be checking it out.

The director of PINK FLAMINGOS weird?! who would’ve thought.

here’s what waters has said about maturity:

‘life is nothing if you’re not obsessed.
iIf you’re an outsider, as soon as you stop being
uptight about it and believe that it’s an advantage,
you’ll win. that’s what my movies are about.
the things you get hassled about exaggerate
them, be proud of them, and then people will really
respect you. make friends with your neuroses :
that’s modern maturity.’

by coincidence i watched THE TINGLER the other night, and there was john waters again, speaking eloquently about william castle, another one of his influences.
very good choice by yony in my opinion.

Graham Rae
May 2 2010
6:31 pm

This is not about John Waters. It’s about William S Burroughs.

johnny strike
May 2 2010
6:36 pm

I did not introduce this splinter topic.

fine by me.

let’s move on to WSB.

Graham Rae
May 3 2010
8:09 pm

Then again, it was because WSB said of Waters:

“John Waters is the Pope of Trash and his taste in tacky is unexcelled.”

that I mentioned both their papal titles at the start of this.

(Chuckle)

johnny strike
May 4 2010
7:58 am

“judging by the tragic painful horrible life the man lived, ”

that sounds like someone who died young. maybe with a fatal disease or in a car crash, not some one who lived to 83 accomplished what he accomplished and saw generation after generation rediscover his work. someone who was active up till the end. someone who was engaged and interested in more things than most men could even imagine; what al ellis called VAI, vital absorbing interests. someone who lived in mexico, traveled in south america, lived in tangier, paris, london, new york etc. someone who had many great friendships, and collaborations throughout his life.
sure there was tragedy, sadness, heartbreak, like in most peoples lives, especially if they live to that age. like one of his influences has said, and he often quoted “it’s not an either or situation, it’s both.’

Graham Rae
May 4 2010
3:28 pm

Potentially abused as a kid. Shot and killed a woman he loved in a stupid senseless accident. Cut off his fingertip. Had his son die slowly and painfully in front of him. Was addicated to drugs most of his life. I think, personally, he had a pretty tragic painful horrible life (though he still managed to create some interesting art out of it). To me, that is. No wonder he stayed wasted out of his face for large parts of his life. That was no parlor trick; as posited by the film, he was a confused, schizoid man in extreme emotional and psychological pain. And his life is not his art, at least not totally. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to live the life he lived, that’s for sure; the artistic achievements never surpassed the pain of the existence. To me, once again. Just my opinion.

johnny strike
May 5 2010
9:02 am

‘In the mid-1980s William went through a period of deep sadness and depression, reviewing a life’s catalog of mistakes and regrets, and this seems to have resulted in a kind of spiritual awakening, because by the end of his life ten years later he really had become enormously sweet and tenderhearted. I don’t mean saccharine-sweet — William was salty and irreverent and funny to the end — but he was more patient, more kindly, more considerate, more grateful, and more gracious. I would say he was trying to extinguish the Second Fire, ill-will, and to stave off the onset of the Third, mental dullness or boredom. In Western Lands, and even moreso in My Education: A Book of Dreams (which he assembled in the early 1990s), he encounters most of his old friends in the “L.O.D.” — the Land of the Dead, which in turn is coterminous with the world of his dreams, meaning that his view of the afterlife is a life in dreams, or a bardo state, between lives.
As death approached, William was writing in what he knew would be his final journals. In these he wrestled with his anger at man’s bottomless ignorance, and seems to have overcome it to a large extent, by the end. I think he never stopped believing that, in the words of Sri Aurobindo, which he often quoted: “This is a War Universe” — and he always saw himself in the warrior’s role. But by some dispensation of his own curious karma, including all the social and historical baggage he was born with, and all the passions he felt and violent actions he took in his life, William Burroughs was given a final decade of old age in which to look back upon that life and study its lessons — and in this time, with the help of his beloved cats, he attainted a state of ahimsa, compassion for the suffering that is everywhere.’

–James Grauerholz

Graham Rae
May 5 2010
6:16 pm

Alright, his life was a laugh riot. (Chuckle)

johnny strike
May 6 2010
8:53 am

‘Life is very dangerous and few survive it…’

WSB

kansaspo8
May 13 2010
3:31 pm

Interesting that so much attention drawn to comments of John Waters. Ironic, to me, that Mr. Waters was, of all the talking heads in movie, least ‘attached’ to WSB in a personal, business, financial or egotistical way.

Yony made a good doc. Let’s see what is next.

cuthebull
Aug 23 2010
10:17 am

Joe, WSB’s charisma was especially powerful with those who DID know him. Celebrities as well as his friends in Lawrence Ks. You can see them in Yony’s film. I spoke with some of his friends myself…A good number of them speak about him with genuine affection, describe WSB as a compassionate good friend…yes. it’s complicated and annoying for some to NOT get a clear delineation of characters as either saint or evil…very uneasy mish-mash, beautifully crafted in Yony’s film

Patricia marvin
Dec 20 2010
11:51 pm

I saw the film several times, it is a real onion. I liked it the first time. I think it should be required in any course about William or the beats. Very accurate, carefully crafted, it was fun, it made me cry a little. It puts William in contexts of time, of class, of company, of exceptions. I disliked some of the interviews at first and inexplicably liked them more as I saw them repeated. I found it remarkable that Yoni was able to convey both man and ideas, Very complex material there.
I can’t wait for the dvd as I want to stop the film about every 10 minutes and discuss or elaborate on some point. My friends assure me that will happen and we will make a night of it. I was in New York at one opening and could of mingled at the after party but wasn’t smart, I hid in a corner, now I want to send all those people who gave their time, stories and opinions that made this film so true (to me) a free tshirt. yoni, could you send me their addresses?
I was sorry that the film had so many shots of the shot gun art (which I understand is the hot media take on Williams art) and Fred’s opinion of the art. I admit the film did note there was a variety of art techniques but the long shots of the shooting told an abridged story of a great artistic journey, and in film, pictures are the majority of the tale. It could of has some flashes of The Seven Deadly Sins, etc. Fred comes from a back ground of classical art, little fine brush strokes, different school of art than Warhol, Gyson and Burroughs. But I have disagreed with Fred take on William’s art for decades. I found the art shot through with portals of light honest collaborations and stirred with media and texture.
No one should judge William, Yoni, or Fred from my run on writing. I don’t have a fine hand at writing, I am better at pies. I hope this film gets into the award arenas because it is that good.

Patricia marvin
Dec 20 2010
11:54 pm

Now I want to go back and edit some typos and carelessness. If I had the right machine, I could, maybe.

cherie nutting
Feb 27 2011
2:22 pm

Thank you Yoni for featuring the Music which William Burroughs loved and supported.

THE MASTER MUSICIANS OF JAJOUKA LED BY BACHIR ATTAR.

It was a pleasure to meet you and to see the film on the big screen at your opening in NYC.

Bachir and the Musicians thank you and we all send love.

Cherie Nutting

Aasolaris
Aug 25 2011
12:00 am

I think that trying to understand the “man” behind WSB the reviewer is just showing a mirror of himself.

Bukowski Quotes
Jun 17 2012
9:40 pm

Nice review. I also found the film to be a more honest approach to the man than other attempts I’d seen or read. Hearing from his past lovers and loves, to the extent he had them, was fascinating. I especially liked the story of his boyfriend getting up the courage to wake him up and tell him he loved him, with Burroughs going, “Huh? Oh, that’s okay.” Well, at least he had his cats. I didn’t realize how into them he was at the end.

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