William S. Burroughs documentary

A new documentary on William S. Burroughs is in production and the trailer looks fantastic. Titled "A Man Within," the film is directed by Yony Leyser and features the likes of WSB's friends and collaborators Laurie Anderson, Iggy Pop, V. Vale, Anne Waldman, James Grauerholz, Genesis P-Orridge, and David Cronenberg. Peter Weller narrates and Sonic Youth composed the soundtrack! William S. Burroughs: A Man Within


  1. I’m interested in viewing this documentary so I can figure out why this man is lionized so much. My impression was the he was somewhat of a misogynist whose story about “accidentally” killing his wife has been accepted at face value. He basically got off Scott free. I’ve only read Naked lunch and didn’t particularly care for it but I understand that he is considered a great artist by some.

    I wonder how much of his reputation is based on his “outsider/Junkie chic” image and how much is based on true artistic merit.

  2. I can’t wait to see this. He invented the meme, broke the last rules, and finally left us only human. We’re still catching up to him.

  3. Anonymous @ 2
    I would say his well earned reputation as a great artist is a result of his being one of the most viciously funny and imaginative satirists of the 20th century.

  4. I completely agree with #2. His contributions to literature are fleeting at best and his fame is based on his ability to be a wretched and vile excuse for a human.

    To claim he invented the meme is absurd; that is like saying Marconi invented opera because it was broadcast on TV.

  5. Re #2
    I’m opposed to junky-chic, misogyny,and pedophilia.

    Willy B is not a good role model, but he is one of the greatest, most profoundly American voices of the 20th century.

    His books are not “novels” so much as one single ongoing, constantly reworked travelogue of the same sensations.
    Its a flavor that to comprehend you must allow to wash over you and go with it.

    Through appropriate cutting and pasting, his entire (massive) written body of work could be distilled into one not especially thick volume that contained everything of worth, but it would be a very dense and worthy volume indeed.
    The spoken word/audio soundscapes he did over the course of life, to some degree achieve that density of quality.

    Of course, he not everybody’s cup of tea.
    There no law that you have to enjoy anything.

  6. I’d agree that Burroughs is a great writer, but dangerous? To his wife, maybe: but being a pillar of the avant-garde for fifty years, and a pop-culture icon to boot, hardly counts as dangerous. (Can a Library of America edition of his works be far off?) Let’s hope there’s not too much of this kind of retroactive deification happy-talk.

    If you’re wondering about his texts, start with the early ones, Junky and Queer maybe. If you like those, go onto the later, weirder work: Naked Lunch, The Wild Boys, Nova Express. Great stuff. I don’t think you’ll get much of a sense of his work from this documentary, if the trailer is representative. Read him, it’s worth it!

  7. I don’t know if Sonic Youth composed the soundtrack, or if they compiled it, but as much as the trailer’s soundtrack resembles some of the music from Confusion is Sex, some people might be interested to know it’s “The Middle of the Night”, from Apocalypse Across the Sky, by the Master Musicians of Jajouka–which, maybe, ties in thematically with Burroughs’ time spent in Morocco.

  8. With Cities of the Red Night, he was ahead of the curve on AIDS. With the murder of his wife, he was right in the sweet spot of degenerate drugged-out a-holes.

  9. What, no Bryon Gysin? :P

    The debate of Burroughs’ validity as an artist is interesting. To me, he represents everything I don’t want to be, and don’t want to associate with. At the same time, I greatly respect him as a writer, because he was the first one to ever really and truly get through to me what raw, human ugliness really looks like.

    His writing defined a world stained and pocked with this ugliness, so that even when he rose to points of sarcastic humor, it seemed a little twisted. The way his perspective shifted between lucidity and dream served also to both accentuate the emotion of the moment and to keep the reader off-balance and in that moment.

    Maybe I sound a little pretentious, but that’s how I think of Burroughs. He was quite gifted at being ugly and repulsive, while still being human.

  10. I’ve seen a couple of Burroughs docs before, and also read a quite a few of his books, and what I’m left with is the picture of a man who was funny, rebellious to everything, and yet stuck in his own habits and ideas. He also seemed to wander a bit too much between adventurous and pompous. I don’t think I would have liked Burroughs, but I like the idea of him being in the world.

    As for the trailer, it’s good to see that James Grauserholz looking and sounding a bit less self-important and self-serving than he mostly have done (in earlier docs and also in Burroughs’ biography).
    Could be an interesting watch, if they have managed to dig up something new.

    And I don’t think he ever set out to be a role model either. :-)

  11. I simply love Burroughs, things like hassan’s backroom never fail to amaze me.
    If you arent touched by his works – who cares?
    His cut-up’s were the ancestor of sampling!

  12. Well, he DID offer some Words Of Advice For Young People.
    And it was mostly good advice too.
    I mean, you can’t really fault the logic and eternal truth of “never interfere in a boy and girl fight.”

  13. I’ve also never understood the appeal of WSB. It always seemed like people gushed about his work because they felt they were supposed to. It was terribly, terribly cool to be into WSB. I read Naked Lunch, and Junkie, and mostly came away with a deep personal dislike of the author.

    Perhaps it’s socially useful as a critique of trust-fund babies like WSB, who are given everything, and then spend their lives taking advantage of others. I don’t think his later role as a well-loved, kindly old grandpa of letters was particularly merited.

    I did enjoy parts of the movie Naked Lunch, especially the bit where the main character begins hearing verbalization of non-verbal communication between himself and an acquaintance.

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