Review by: Wik Wikholm
Reviewed on: June 01, 2011
The film provides only the necessary rudiments of Burroughs’ biography, including his introduction to opiates by a nanny his wealthy parents employed. It is primarily devoted to Burroughs as a leading Beat writer who, along with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, helped construct the Beat Generation, was an important gay icon, inspired the counterculture of the 1960s, and was the muse and godfather of Punk Rock. The film includes revealing contemporary interviews as well as archival film of Burroughs, Ginsberg, John Waters, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Gus Van Sant, Andy Warhol, and two Burroughs biographers who amply support the film’s contention that Burroughs had an enormous cultural impact that lasted from the 1950s into the 1990s. The film also includes interviews with several people it labels "companions," though it is hard to tell whether filmmaker Yony Leyser uses the term to mean lover, starfucker, or something else.
Even though the film demonstrates that Burroughs influenced almost every late twentieth-century countercultural movement, he refused to be labeled "beat," "gay," "hippie," or "punk" so he would not be subjugated to the rules or expectations the labels impose. As glbtq.com contributor Scott McLemee notes, Burroughs "anticipated such post-structuralist thinkers as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida" in his pursuit of pleasure and unlimited freedom and his bitter cynicism about and opposition to any social structure, relationship, or label that would constrain that pursuit.
The film, narrated by actor Peter Weller, uses visual art, graphic design, video interviews, a soundtrack by Patti Smith and Sonic Youth, and films of readings by Burroughs in a deliberately unsettling way that may seem haphazard at first, but, when finally understood, reveals a nod to the aesthetics of the Beat Generation. It is an excellent introduction to Burroughs as a personality, writer, and artist and effectively portrays his impact on the people around him and his significance in American cultural history.