Burroughs: A Man Within
You know what? I was seriously dissapointed by this movie. It isn't much more than a VH1 behind the music type deal. I didn't learn anything new, though I am admittedly pretty well versed in Burrough's life and what not, and I got pretty bored toward the end. It was slapped together rather illogically with little continuity aside from the fact that it was all about Burroughs. There was no story or point of view. Just because it's a documentary doesn't mean you can abandon the concept of story, in fact, you could argue that it is more important. All the talking heads, even some of my very favorite people in the world (Iggy Pop, John Waters, Thurston Moore), just basically went on and on about how much they were in awe of Burroughs as if we were just supposed to join the crowd because they were in it.
A few outlandish claims are made, among them offering Burroughs as the most important writer of the second half of the 20th century. Is that true? I don't think so. He's had a lasting impact on a certain segment of the literary population for sure but you're going to have a hard time convincing me he is more important than Albert Camus or even Gabriel Garcia Marquez (I don't want to debate this with myself, I'd say Burroughs is probably in the top ten or twenty). His impact on literature isn't as great as Andy Warhol's on art but they are similar in several aspects. The movie could have explored that far more deeply than it did, as it is their relationship is pretty much mentioned in passing.
I suppose I wanted something more academic. I wanted honest and actual critiques of his prose. I wanted his place in landscape of American literature proven to me. But that's not what you get. I would've been interested to see what Amiri Baraka had to say about his writing but you just get a couple of tiny sound bites. Instead it's a bunch of celebrities and gushing biographers championing him to people who are already into Burroughs. Just because Iggy Pop alludes to him in Gimme Some Skin, I'm supposed to take him more seriously than I already do? I don't think so. Patti Smith had a huge crush on him. What am I supposed to do with that information? I don't really know. It doesn't make me think Burroughs was any more or less a writer than he already was. It just makes me think he had to deal with Patti Smith all the time which sounds exhausting. They also spend a lot of time talking about Burroughs inability to love anyone or even himself. That doesn't make him special, or particularly interesting. A lot of people have that problem. Not many people could produce something with the amazing literary scope of Naked Lunch or even Queer or Junky and honestly that's the Burroughs that I wanted to meet in this documentary.
I was, and am, just as impressed by the man as everyone in this documentary. I don't want my criticisms of the movie transposed onto Burroughs. He'll always be one of my heroes and the only Beat I consider worthwhile. I just wish the documentary had tried to show us how important his writing was instead of just telling us it was important. Once I saw him in a Dillions in Lawrence, Kansas. His famous sword cane was hanging on the handle of his cart and he was kind of shuffling down the aisle. I almsot shit my pants. It was cooler than the time Jim Carroll told me he liked my shirt.