PLOT: A portrait of the life of the literary outlaw told through archival footage, rare home
movies, and interviews with friends, admirers and followers.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Its subject is weird, but despite the brief avant-garde sequences used as buffers between the praising heads, its method isn’t.
COMMENTS: With his quick wit, cadaverous features, and patrician drawl, William S. Burroughs projected a mighty persona. His writings were full of ironic distance, parody and outlandish stream-of-consciousness surrealism, only occasionally punctured by confessional. The romantic myth that grew up about him—the artist tormented by guilt, addiction, and public ostracism, who strikes back at society by rejecting all forms of authority—was so powerful that it became far more influential than his actual writings. The subtitle of this documentary—A Man Within—suggests that we may get a peek under that dapper three-piece armor Burroughs wore in public and see the real, naked man underneath. Yony Leyser’s freshman documentary is partially successful at that task; he gives us unprecedented access to Burroughs’ home movies (showing him as an old man smoking a joint before going out to fire a shotgun) and reminiscences from those closest to him, including several former lovers. The portrait that emerges is of a man who may have suffered as much from loneliness as from drugs and remorse; the man we see here has difficulty forming relationships with men he’s attracted to, and prefers to seek the companionship of street hustlers and boys too young and foolish to break his heart. Topics covered, in jumbled order, include Burroughs’ upper class upbringing; his role as godfather of the Beats; his homosexuality and his refusal to join the “gay mainstream;” his lifelong relationship with heroin; his love of snakes and guns; the accidental killing of Joan Vollmer Continue reading CAPSULE: WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS: A MAN WITHIN (2010)→
PLOT: A disturbed man is released from a mental institution and sent to live in a halfway
house. While there, he traces back to his childhood to remember a troubled past and the tragic events that shaped his current mental instability.
WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE:To compile a list of the weirdest movies ever made, one would be hard-pressed not to include Cronenberg’s entire oeuvre. Here, the director eschews the “body horror” that encompassed much of his earlier films and focuses solely on the deterioration of the mind. While this can be just as grotesque as horrors of the flesh, the journey can get so convoluted at times that the weirdness teeters on a fulcrum. Eventually, the confusion weighs too heavy and topples the weirdness into mere befuddlement.
COMMENTS: A cinematic pet peeve of mine was surely tested with this movie. Being American, I shouldn’t have to struggle listening to an English film (i.e., UK-Great Britain). We speak the same tongue, albeit with some slight variances in words and phrases. The cockney accents in this film can get so thick at times I considered reaching for the subtitle button on the remote. To make matters worse, the film focuses on the character of Spider (Fiennes) who mumbles and spews gibberish as a means of communication. Actually, most of his conversations are only with himself. I loathe having to toggle the volume levels up and down. I had to do this for the duration of the film. Aside from this aggravation, Spider is not a bad film; nor is it a great one.
I loved the approach taken in the opening credits. Various textiles and walls are displayed artistically with corrosion and chipped paint, each frame containing a pattern or form that is open to interpretation. It is set up to resemble Rorschach inkblot tests used in the psychiatric field (I must be going mad myself because all I see in them are cool looking demons). These opening credits are effective because they prepare the viewer for a movie that deals with an imbalanced mind. What we perceive to be truth is certainly going to be skewed from the perspective of a protagonist with warped sensibilities.
Here’s an alternative seasonal viewing list for the weird, that goes beyond the usual vampire/zombie/demon/slasher fare (although some favorite characters make appearances).
1. Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle 3 (2002) . Only the third of Barney’s epic Cremaster Cycle, made over an eight year period, has made it’s way to any type of video release, which is criminally unfortunate. The Guggenheim Museum, who financed it, exhibits the Cycle and describes it as a “a self-enclosed aesthetic system consisting of five feature-length films that explore the processes of creation.” Trailers are available on the Cremaster website; www.cremaster.net. The third movie is available via Amazon and other outlets, albeit at expensive prices [Ed. Note: the version of Cremaster 3 that’s commercially available is not actually the full movie, but a 30 minute excerpt that’s still highly collectible as the only Cremaster footage released]. The Cremaster Cycle is complex, challenging, provocative and not for the attention span-challenged.
2.Guy Maddin‘s Dracula-Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2002). Guy’s Dracula ballet, choreographed to Mahler. Just when you though nothing more could be done with this old, old story. Of course, we are talking Mr. Maddin here.
3. Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf (1968).Bergman’s ode to German Expressionism has been labeled his sole horror film. Hour is a further continuation of frequent Bergman themes—the defeated artist, loss of God, nihilism—and stars Bergman regular Max Von Sydow. Some find this dull and slow, others find it mesmerizing and nightmarish.
“It’s impossible to make a movie out of ‘Naked Lunch.’ A literal translation just wouldn’t work. It would cost $400 million to make and would be banned in every country of the world.” –David Cronenberg
DIRECTED BY: David Cronenberg
FEATURING: Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Julian Sands
PLOT: Bill Lee is a writer/exterminator in New York City whose wife begins mainlining the bug powder he uses to kill roaches, and convinces him to try it as well. He becomes addicted to the powder, and one night shoots his wife dead while playing “William Tell.” Lee goes on the lam and lands in Interzone, an exotic free zone reminiscent of Tangier or Casablanca (but which may exist only in his mind), where he begins taking ever more powerful drugs and typing out “reports” partially dictated to him by his living, insectoid typewriter.
The novel was held not to be obscene by the Massachusetts Supreme Court in 1966. This was the final obscenity prosecution of a literary work in the United States; there would be no subsequent censorship of the written word (standing alone).
Several directors had considered filming the novel before David Cronenberg got the project. Avant-garde director Anthony Balch wanted to adapt it as a musical (with Burroughs’s blessing), and actually got as far as storyboarding the project and getting a commitment from Mick Jagger (who later backed out) to star. Among others briefly interested in adapting the novel in some form were Terry Southern, John Huston, Frank Zappa, and Terry Gilliam.
Because the novel was essentially a plotless series of hallucinatory vignettes (what Burroughs called “routines’), David Cronenberg chose to make the movie a thinly veiled tale about Burroughs’s writing of the novel, incorporating only a few of the actual characters and incidents from the book. Actors in the film portray real-life writers and Burroughs associates Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Paul and Jane Bowles.
The episode in the film where Lee accidentally shoots his wife while performing the “William Tell routine” is taken from Burroughs real life: he actually shot his common law wife while performing a similar trick in a Mexican bar. Burroughs felt tremendous guilt through his life for the accident and has said “I would have never become a writer but for Joan’s death.”
Naked Lunch won seven awards at the Genie Awards (the Canadian equivalent of the Oscars), including Best Movie and Best Director.
Producer Jeremy Thomas has somewhat specialized in bringing weird and unusual fare to the largest possible audience, producing not only Naked Lunch but also Cronenberg’s Crash (1996) and Tideland (2005).
Following a definite theme for the year, Judy Davis also played an author’s muse and lover in another surrealistic 1991 movie about a tortured writer, Barton Fink.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Clark Nova, Lee’s territorial, talking typewriter, who alternately guides and torments the writer. He’s a beetle who has somehow evolved a QWERTY keyboard as an organ. When he speaks, he lifts his wings to reveal a sphincter through which he dictates his directives.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: It begins with an exterminator who does his rounds wearing a three piece suit and fedora. His philosophy is to “exterminate all rational thought.” His wife steals his insecticide and injects it into her breast to get high, and gets him hooked on the bug power, too. A pair of cops question him on suspicion of possessing dangerous narcotics, and leave him alone in the interrogation room with a huge talking “caseworker” bug who explains that his wife is an agent of Interzone, Incorporated, and is not even human. And this is just the setup, before the film turns really weird.