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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Burroughs (Criterion Collection Blu-ray)

As a teenager I read quite a bit of Burroughs. Sometimes completely coherent and conscious and other times, in a state of mind that may have assisted in me better understanding his cut and paste style. William Burroughs taught me how to write in a non sequitur fashion but with purpose and narrative. For the short time that I kept up with example I’d find great fun in learning how to write the literary sanity of a truly crazy world uninhibited or at least with a new set of rules. Criterion Collection has released the 1983 Howard Brookner documentary about his life. It pieces together interviews from everyone from Patti Smith to Allen Ginsburg and whoa is it a nice way to get involved with the godfather again.

I had a great time reliving my youth via some truly remarkable interviews with classic writers from the beat generation and beyond. Now those of you who have listened to Burroughs read know that he has this scraggly beautiful monotone that leads you through his ideas into full-fledged scenes of terror. Unfortunately when it comes to discussing his life an interview format that same speaking style holds up and can yield a somewhat different result. I found myself getting snoozey/sleepy and almost in a trance at time. Is that just the power of Burroughs or is that the effect of the documentary with somewhat lower than desirable audio levels.

That’s not to say the Criterion disc and transfer are flawed. I believe the source material is to blame and provide a somewhat washed out audio that made hearing a rather soft spoken Burroughs difficult at times. Visually it looks beautiful and the audio track is a good representation of the original work.

The extras are dedicated to this release as opposed to a focus on Burroughs himself which I suppose I found surprising. You have an interview with Brookner (who had passed away in the 80’s), commentary track with the sound recordist on the film, a beautiful poster and essay. There’s an experimental film from Robert E Fulton III as well (something to check out).

The end result of Brookner’s work is providing clarifying moments about Burroughs early life, the death of Joan and Burroughs history of addiction all with appropriate context provided by the interviewees and with a nod to Burroughs shedding his wise perspective on many unique situations of legend and lore. It’s a well put together documentary that looks inside an aging writer whose legacy is unbounded while taking the larger than life man and creating bounds for him as a human.


You can order this classic documentary on the Godfather of Punk from Criterion now:

From Criterion:

Made up of intimate, revelatory footage of the singular author and poet filmed over the course of five years, Howard Brookner’s 1983 documentary about William S. Burroughs was for decades mainly the stuff of legend; that changed when Aaron Brookner, the late director’s nephew, discovered a print of it in 2011 and spearheaded a restoration. Now viewers can enjoy the invigorating candidness of Burroughs: The Movie, a one-of-a-kind nonfiction portrait that was brought to life with the help of a remarkable crew of friends, including Jim Jarmusch and Tom DiCillo, and that features on-screen appearances by fellow artists of Burroughs’s including Allen Ginsberg, Herbert Huncke, Patti Smith, and Terry Southern.

Disc Features

● New, high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray

● New audio commentary by filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, who was a sound recordist on the film

● Audio interview with director Howard Brookner from 1985, conducted by William S. Burroughs biographer Ted Morgan

● New interview with Brookner’s nephew, filmmaker Aaron Brookner, who oversaw the film’s restoration

● Rare outtakes

● Footage from the 2014 New York Film Festival premiere of the film’s restoration, featuring a Q&A with Jarmusch, Aaron Brookner, filmmaker Tom DiCillo, and Burroughs’s friend and fellow writer James Grauerholz

● Thirty-minute experimental edit of the film from 1981 by inventor and photographer Robert E. FultonIII

● PLUS: An essay by critic Luc Sante and collage artwork by artist Alison Mosshart





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